Are you aware of your digital footprint?

digital footprint
Paris Brown is was the UK's first youth police and crime commissioner.  She is 17 years old and already has a number of social media accounts.  Since her new role was made public, the British media have made it their mission to delve around in her very short online history and dissect anything they can find.  They printed tweets dating back three years which made her appear racist, homophobic and supportive of the drug culture.  
source:  BBC News
updated source:  BBC News

As Ms Brown so rightly says, with hindsight, teenagers have been brought up with digital media all around them and it is second nature to share instant snippets of their lives with their immediate peer network.  It's difficult to remember that almost all online activity is cached (saved) and can be found with very little difficulty.  Another very good point to recognise is that Ms Brown has done something that not many politicians or celebrities can do; she has stood in front of the British media and answered to her previous actions.

However, does this now open the door for all prospective employees to request access to our social media accounts during the interview process?  After all, we are very used to seeing disclaimers such as, "These are my own views and not those of [insert well known organisation]" on many a Twitter bio.

I am constantly engaged in conversations where parents are attempting to protect their children's digital footprint by giving them nicknames online (especially in the Parent Blogger community), hiding their faces in images uploaded to social media accounts or even reserving their Facebook account names and/or domain names for future use.  As a parent of older children (now teenagers and young adults) I feel that this is taking away some of their digital responsibility and the excitement of creating their first online account but as a parent, I understand the need to educate my child about 'netiquette'.  But are we teaching them correctly?

Each social media platform has its own merits and uses yet prolific online users tend to connect with as many as they can in an attempt to achieve a maximum audience.  At the other end of the scale, you will find slightly less techy people sticking to Facebook as they were early adopters and it is an easily accessible platform for users of all ages and ability (plus there are games).  However, I feel that we should use each platform differently and you don't need to use all of them all of the time.

Facebook:  Great for family and friends.  Befriend people you actually know and get into the habit of checking your privacy settings.  Use the platform to keep in touch on a 'real life' basis.  

Twitter:  Real time updates from real time people.  Twitter reminds me of the Ferris Bueller quote: Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.  Apply this to Twitter (time spent, amount of people you follow, the type of people you follow) and you can't go far wrong.

Google Plus:  It's a geek zone.  It's going to take time for your Average Joe to migrate over to a new platform.  However, if you understand that whatever Google create now is going to be incorporated into its own search engine then you can use that power for your own gain.  

Every social media platform is going to be embedded with money-making schemes and spammers.  The algorithms built into each platform allow you to be targeted according to your usage.  Each platform will capture your information and usage statistics and use it to enhance your time spent on there.  This forms part of your digital footprint.  

Facebook has introduced Edge Rank, targeted advertising and now payment for messaging strangers.  Twitter has promoted tweets - clearly marked and sometimes locked into the top of an app.  Google tends to embed their campaigns into their search results and (by choice) on-page advertising using Google Ads but with a little forethought and planning we can control the settings on our accounts, flip everything on its head and enjoy the social media platforms in the way they were intended.  

Online life is an important part of now and of the future  however, as long as we are aware of what we are sharing (both with our audience and with the platform owners) then we remain in control of our digital footprint.  And this is what we need to teach new users from the outset.


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