Undeniably, our online presence is an extension of ourselves, and as such, we should care for it in the same way we care for ourselves. The World Economic Forum reports that one in five employers has turned down prospective employees after looking them up online, and the same number has fired an employee due to their social media activity. It is safe to assume that this number is only going to increase, as more employers turn to social media to recruit their talent. According to Thiswayglobal.com, in 2011, 56% of companies were using social media to recruit. By 2016, 84% of the companies were doing so.
As educators, it is our job to help our students understand the relevance of their digital footprint and how to proactively manage it. This, of course, is intimately connected to online privacy (see my post on this here), so ideally both topics should be addressed simultaneously. First and foremost, it is key that students know how their digital footprint is created. There are obvious activities that evidently leave a trail: our posts, tweets, photos and video uploads, and our reactions to other people’s content through comments and likes. As creators of content, we can always go back and edit it (depending on the site) or delete it. This sounds obvious, but something that might not be obvious is how easy is to access some of this information.
For example, when I googled myself, on the first page of results is listed a link that will take anyone to my YouTube profile page (I don’t post on YouTube, but I have a Google account) which includes all the videos that I have ever liked on that platform. Luckily, nothing embarrassing for me there. What surprised me was that anybody would have access to this information in such an easy and straightforward way. So, something to ponder:
What would your liked YouTube videos say about yourself?
However, it is essential that students understand that once the content has gone online, we lose control over it, even if we have the highest settings of privacy and our posts can only be seen by friends.
Who can tell that someone has taken a screenshot of my tweet? Who can tell that someone has downloaded my profile photo and shared it with others who are not my friends?
Beyond that, students should also understand how other online activities leave a trail without us necessarily being aware of it. One example is the trail we leave through the cookies that track website activity.
Below, there are two videos that I have previously used with Grade 6 students which explain in simple terms how our digital footprint is made:
Having a solid understanding of how a digital footprint is constructed, allows the students to realize how important it is to be critical of what they chose to post online to ensure that they are leaving a positive trail behind. Here is another video that helps the student make these decisions by considering if what they are about to post is true, helpful, inspiring, necessary or kind.
Although the Right to be Forgotten is something that can be claimed in some nations and enforced by a court of law (not very easily, of course), it is imperative that we teach our students to be vigilant of the content that they post online, from the inoffensive joke retweet to the photos of their family vacation and their political and religious views. Furthermore, students should be aware of how their digital footprint and online presence showcase themselves and can potentially enhance or hinder opportunities for them down the line.