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Our digital footprints

digital footprints and identity Feb 05, 2017

AUTHOR: Katherine Fitzgerald, Law student University of Paris 8

Nowadays it is almost impossible to disconnect, disconnect from the internet and the World Wide Web that is. We are living more and more in a digital era where we are all creating our own online persona, our individual digital footprint. A digital footprint combines everything we post online, share or view. This could include a profile on Facebook or Myspace photographs posted online as well as anything we have written or that has been written about us, for instance on discussion boards, blogs, or in articles. Nowadays we are all being encouraged to put aspects of ourselves and our lives online, and much of this content is freely available to view. Each time we add something about ourselves on the internet we enlarge our own digital footprint. Whenever we mention someone else, we enlarge theirs.

For whilst we are afforded great freedom to write, communicate and interact with one and other we are also shackled by our actions on the net. Indeed there is no such thing as the ‘delete’ button on the internet. Our digital footprint can forever haunt us it seems (embarrassing Facebook photos springs to mind) and have ever more lasting consequences.

So how do we protect our children from repeating our beginner’s mistakes? Children are invariably more vulnerable than we are, unafraid to speak their minds or share personal information without being truly aware of the consequences. But the problem is that, unlike in real life were mistakes can be repaired or erased, once it’s online it could be there forever. Always keep in mind that once information has been posted online, it can be almost impossible to remove because of archiving and file sharing. Even though they deactivate their accounts, the information may still be retrieved by others. And as their taste change over time their footprint will still include all those early postings, forever stuck in the past or that stage of their lives.

Moreover the consequences to an unsavoury posting on social media could have far reaching consequences. Indeed more and more companies, universities or recruiters are verifying the digital footprints of the young generation looking to start out in the world. And unfortunately, it is that footprint could negatively impact the future of our children if too much is shared. Some potential employers have even been known to reject applicants on the basis of information discovered online.

But there are basic steps that can be taken to ensure they do not over-share and regret. Ensure they think before they post. One downloaded image could be forever made public after all. There is a French proverb that says to turn your tongue 7 times in your mouth before talking, the same should be applied to online posting : think before you post!

Furthermore they can manage their digital footprint by taking a few steps as follows. Make sure they keep their personal details private. Using a nickname on sites such as Facebook is a good alternative and makes finding them in a quick Google search far more difficult. They should always try and keep their username and password private to ensure they are the only ones with access to their account and personal information. Teach them to post responsibly, ensuring they don’t post what they wouldn’t want others to know about them or post only what they would say to their friends face. They need to be respectful of other people contents. A photo of a friend is their property not your child’s and they need to be respectful of that fact and only post with their permission.

It is also important in this day and age to tell your children they can also create a constructive digital footprint by building a positive online presence showcasing their skills, experience and interests. Moreover, with some online sites, they can control the information about them that is publicly available. If your teenager is inherently creative or thinking about a professional career in advertising, public relations or the media then having a dynamic digital footprint can be a good basis for demonstrating their online creativity through blogs or videos. Again in this instance be aware of what they are thinking of putting online before they do so to ensure the material is appropriate.

Our digital footprint is here to stay but with simple methods we can help and guide our children through the labyrinth of does and don’ts.

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