The moment we start using a computer, whether it be to log in to facebook, read a blog, book a flight, buy groceries, do the banking or look up the weekends weather forecast, we have already begun to formulate our digital footprint.
Essentially your digital footprint is a trail left by you, the user, that forms a network of data that becomes an online representation of the real life you.
We have both a passive digital footprint, which can be any information collected online which hasn’t been initiated by the person, ie public records or postings and we have an active digital footprint which is created when we deliberately release information about ourselves. When we post things on facebook or Twitter, upload photos, email, message and chat with others we are continouously adding to this network of data. Regardless of the intention for these things to stay private or not, all the information that exists online becomes part of our digital footprint.
You will notice too, that the advertising on sites such as Facebook is very relevant to you, to the searches you have recently researched, items you have bought or topics you have talked about. This is not a coincidence, but a very real and deliberate analysis of you, your interests, what you are likely to buy, from who, where, when and how much you are likely to spend.
It is this digital footprint that also becomes our reputation and with increasing certainty, our resume for future educational and career opportunities.
There are very few employers who do not ‘google’ a prospective employee first, and in fact companies now exist whereby their sole aim is to trawl through the net to gather information about people for these employers or entrance administrators at schools and universities. Even when photos, comments or status updates have been deleted, many people still have the ‘technical know how’ to retrieve it back for anyone’s perusal. Yes you may not offer up your passwords or permission for these checks to be done…but you may be putting yourself at a disadvantage should you refuse.
So how can we ensure that this reputation reflects us in a way we would like to be represented? How can we help our kids understand the ‘staying power’ of anything they post? We cannot rely on the delete button. So far we know data is traceable for 7 years at the very least. And we can never be certain that updates or photos we upload havn’t been copied or forwarded on.
Here are some questions I ask myself every time I hit send. (remembering that people do not always hear the whole story or see the context with which things were said, and nor can they hear any tone of voice that may otherwise change the meaning)
- What message am I sending about myself or my family by posting this? Is this the way I want family or myself to be represented?
- Is there anyone I know that this could potentially hurt or offend?
- Am I giving away to much personal information here that I may not want strangers to see?
- If someone was wanting me to do some work for them or represent their company, could this change their attitude towards me?
- Could I possibly feel differently about this in the morning? Many people (myself included) have wanted to write something that in the heat of frustration or anger may come across vastly different than the way you would usually intend. In these moments it is always best to walk away and sleep on it!
When all else fails I tell my kids to at least ask themselves this one question:
Is there anyone in the whole world I can think of that I don’t want to read this? ……..If the answer is yes, then don’t hit send.
Have you ever regretted something you have said online? Have you spoken to your kids about their digital reputation?