How Young is Too Young?

By mytoenailcameoff

Having contemplated my online image and digital footprint in my last post, the logical progression is to question how aware are students of their digital footprint.  If we assume that students focus on the immediate rather than long term consequences, then many students will not have thought about how their facebook account, blog or online photos will be accessible to future University admission officers and employers.  At what age then is it appropriate to start educating students about the long-term ramifications of information they post on the web?  Research has led me to some unexpected conclusions.

Lindsay Goldwert in the article “Baby’s digital footprint:  Your child’s photos may haunt him forever” for the Daily News presents information about when children begin to develop a digital footprint.  From this information it seems digital footprint education needs to begin at birth, or even before if possible (as strange as that sounds).  The data quoted in this article comes from a study conducted by AVG in September 2010.  They reported their results in the article “Would you want a digital footprint from birth?” in October of 2010.  The key information can be seen in the following infographic.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/officialavg/5056960348/in/photostream/. Referenced to http://www.avg.com/

As an Internet security firm AVG has a vested interest in publishing this information since they want you to purchase their product (but they do also offer free advice and security software online).  However, it does give us pause to consider the digital footprint that children will be inheriting from their parents when 7% of babies and toddlers have email addresses and online profiles.  By the age of 2, 81% of children were found to have a digital footprint.  Being able to share the joys of a new addition to your family is part of being a parent.  Unfortunately many parents are not tech savvy enough to protect their child’s digital image.  So both parents and students need to be taught how to be wise on the internet as early as possible.  This same data was used in “Social Media for Babies:  What’s Your Digital Footprint?” posted by Stephanie Lai of J House Media.  Stephanie summarizes AVG’s CEO, JR Smith in the following manner:  “there are two things parents should think about when posting their child’s information or photos on the internet.  First of all, a digital footprint cannot be erased.  It will be with your child for the rest of his or her life.  So when you post that first picture, make sure the footprint is appropriate. … Secondly, it is increasingly vital for parents to be aware of privacy settings of each social networking site.  The information you put out there can potentially be seen by anyone in the entire world.  Parents need to make sure their privacy settings are correctly adjusted so only people they know can view their content.”  Lindsay Goldwert emphasizes the importance of considering the digital footprint that parents are creating for their child by saying, “This means that your child’s potty photos posted on Facebook could be located online by potential job interviewers, cruel bullies and enterprising reporters.”  No one knows the path a child’s life will take in the future or the damage that a photo posted today might cause.

As educators, our ability to help a child monitor their digital footprint from birth until they enter school is impossible.  However, as soon as we have students writing blogs or using the computer at school I believe it is important to help them understand the idea of digital footprints and appropriate information to post on the internet.  This is no small task.  But its importance warrants a special vigilance.  One site which is working to educate children about digital footprints is Kidsmart out of the UK.  Though much of this site is aimed at older children there are some sections that could be used for younger children, such as the NetNasties section.  This message should be reiterated throughout a students’ entire school career.  As students enter Upper School, the college application process gives them one of their first tastes of how their digital footprint can influence their future.  By this time it may be too late for some to undo the damage they have done through careless words, cruel posts or inappropriate photos.  In September 2008, John Hechinger wrote “College Applicants Beware: Your Facebook Page is Showing.”  Even two years ago many colleges were using Facebook to evaluate applicants.  Imagine how many more are doing so now.  How do we save students from the fate of having their future determined by their teenage posts?  Maybe students themselves are the answer.  The older students teach the younger students in language and examples that are relevant to their generation.  Just a thought!

With all the concerns that are raised related to internet safety and digital footprints, it was interesting to see that a book has recently been published to help people erase their digital footprint.  The book is “How to Disappear:  Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trails, and Vanish Without a Trace” by Frank M. Ahearn and Eileen C Horan.  Logan Lo reviews the book at new york journal of books.  However, it seems to be quite a drama to vanish in plain sight;  far better to be wise and discerning in terms of the information we surrender to public sites in the first place.  With this in mind, think before you post and consider the footprint you are creating for yourself or your child.

Am I A Digital Ostrich Burying My Head in the Sand?

A wise person once said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  These words have played in the mind of many a person preparing for a big job interview.  Before meeting the prospective employer, time is spent rehearsing answers to potential questions, practicing the ideal hand-shake, finding the perfect outfit, and checking all potential routes to the interview.  Finally, with one last glance in the mirror the hopeful employee sets off.  In the digital age, this scenario has changed.  Our “first impression” is no longer made when we step into a room.  With the exponential growth of the internet, our “first impression” is now made through our web presence and digital footprint.  The article “Most Companies Use Social Media For Recruiting, Says Survey” by John Paul Titlow reinforces the importance of our digital image, especially when applying for a new job.  So how do we evaluate and improve our digital footprint?

A quick Google search of “digital footprint” brings up a multitude of sites.  Scanning through the titles I see that I can learn the definition of “digital footprint” from a site such as Wikipedia.  Not all that helpful.  Instead, two other sites sound useful:  “Optimize Your Online Digital Footprint” and “How to Build Your Digital Footprint in 8 Easy Steps”.  Hmm … could be interesting.  A quick scan of these two articles shows that they are primarily focused on helping businesses gain attention and customers.  Can they help me as an educator?  Prior to this course my immediate reaction would be a resounding “NO!”  Have I changed?  Well, I read both articles, so that is a start.  The first article offers little that I find useful.  It is more of a teaser for a book.  What it does offer is quick insights into LinkedIn explaining how to effectively use the headline.  However, it is the second article that has me thinking.

Before delving too far into the article “How to Build Your Digital Footprint in 8 Easy Steps”, I want to get a sense of the author.  Has he proven himself effective in utilizing digital resources?  Mitch Joel has been named “Canada’s Most Influential Male in Social Media”.  His company site says:  “When Google wanted to explain online marketing to the top brands in the world, they brought Mitch Joel to the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. Marketing Magazine dubbed him the “Rock Star of Digital Marketing” and called him, “one of North America’s leading digital visionaries.” In 2006 he was named one of the most influential authorities on Blog Marketing in the world.”  So it seems Joel can speak with authority on digital footprints and using the internet to promote a positive image.

By Royan Lee

His article appealed to me because it advocates a controlled approach to becoming visible on the web.  His first step to building a digital footprint is to develop a strategy.  Think before you publish.  Think about the image you want to portray to your online audience both now and in the future.  Then evaluate the best vehicle for presenting your message.  We know that things last forever on the internet, so if we start blogging or tweeting or facebooking without a clear vision of what we hope to accomplish or the image we hope to portray these early aborted efforts may still be found by others in the future, creating a false first impression which will be hard to undo.  This is important for a business seeking to attract customers, but it is also relevant to an educator.  In the USA Today article “Your online reputation can hurt your job search”, Kim Komando talks about how employers are using social networking sites to evaluate your character.  School superintendents are no different.  Besides character and personality, they may also evaluate a person’s educational philosophy through reading their blog or other postings.   So as an international educator our online image is important.  Thus blogs, facebook posts and tweets need to be thoughtfully considered.  Similarly, Jeff Utecht has been advocating that we as educators control our digital information.  I am beginning to see the sense in this.  I had to smile because Joel also says that “everyone can (and should) publish their thoughts”, mirroring what we have been learning in class about contributing to the resources available on the web, and becoming an active part of the global community.  Thus we reach the pinnacle of Bloom’s new taxonomy and create content rather than just analyzing and synthesizing the information of others.

As we are introduced to new tools in this course, peoples’ reactions fluctuate violently from total fear and withdrawal to being ready to jump in head first with no forethought of the consequences.  Unfortunately for me, the fear factor tends to win the battle.  However, Joel’s advice appears logical and is once again encouraging me to be a thoughtful contributor to the digital world at large.  In the article he says that if you want to be visible and influential in your field on the internet, spend some time researching.  He describes it as “Follow First”.  Find out what and where others are commenting.  This has been reinforced in our course as we use netvibes to follow blogs of people writing about our sphere of interest.  It also applies to following people on Twitter, actively following those who have valuable insights to share that are relevant to us.  Time is too precious to spend wading through immaterial ramblings.  I have not signed up for my Twitter account yet, but perhaps it is time to take the plunge.  Knowing the importance of my digital footprint, it is now time to start actively shaping that image.  Become a thoughtful, purposeful contributor!