Digital Footprints: Don’t trip!

Some rights reserved by Rebecca LadDigitital

I’ve been having some really good discussions while doing a lot of online reading about the digital footprints we all leave behind. This has been an interesting topic for me for a few years. It started when I read an article about a teacher in the US being fired because she had a picture of herself online holding a glass of wine while on vacation in France. I’ve thought about my digital footprint and wondered, “What am I telling people about Me online? and, How might others interpret my digital footprints?”

We have all made mistakes in life. The difference with making one today is that it can be  put online and seen by many. Trip down the stairs or say the wrong thing in a blog or vlog posting and it can go viral. Ask the young lady who is now a former student at UCLA about her comments about others in the library in a vlog that was up for only up for a few minutes. Afterwards, she and her family were harassed causing her to drop out of school.

Teachers have always been held to high standards in the public’s eye. Here’s a list of rules for teacher from 1827 and 1900. In each list there are specifics relating to a teacher’s expectations in the public’s eye. How different is it today? I’ve found several sites that discuss teachers being fired over their Facebook accounts. The cases vary from being seen with alcohol, standing in a swimsuit, to dissing your class and school. The rules aren’t listed now, but… they’re there. I know several “high ups” from different companies here in Hong Kong that have no problem letting loose on the weekend and posting about it. If I had any pics or status updates like some of them, I’m sure I’d be going to a job fair next February. There’s a double standard for teachers.

Leaving a positive footprint is necessary. It’s necessary for getting new jobs, maintaining  professional relationships, obtaining and maintaing the trust of the parents and students we work with. Some people are able to juggle a professional trail and personal trail online. The trick is to make sure these paths stay separate and don’t cross. You don’t want your digital footprints to trip over each other.

Teaching students how to be positive digital citizens from an early age is important. Besides teaching them how to respect each other while posting comments and/or pics, we have to teach them how to respect themselves. They need to step back before they hit submit or send and think, “What does this say about others? What does it say about me?”

I have accepted several former students as friends on Facebook. My general rule is that they have to be out of high school for me to accept them. Only a few have had this rule waived by showing they’re highly responsible and mature. These students have limited access to my page, but I’m always amazed at how much they leave open to the world on their own sites.

I have intervened a couple of times when I felt the student had made a posting that was either highly damaging to someone else or to themselves. In one case it was a list of teachers from my school with various adjectives tied to each name. Another was a not so appropriate picture that was self posted with a lewd title.The last was a student informing ALL of Facebook that her cell phone was lost and her new number was ########.

More and more colleges are browsing social networks while accepting new applicants. It’s scary to think that the decisions you made online at 16 could affect your acceptance to the school of your choice. There’s a lesson for high school students to evaluate if they would hire themselves after looking at their digital footprints.

It’s not only schools though. I have a friend that works in the US as a HR director. He says that he is constantly looking on FB for any negative comments towards his company from any of it’s employees. He also automatically does a Google search of any applicant.  As soon as I found out that I was getting a new teammate next fall I Facebooked him. I discovered we had mutual friends. After a few minutes of instant chatting and research, I knew quite a bit about him and his family.

If we’re going to send kids out into a world that proactively searches for their digital footprints, we need to start educating them early on how to portray and maintain a positive online presence. If we don’t make it an aspect in the development of the whole child in school, where will they learn it?