The impact of one’s digital footprint is an issue which often doesn’t receive enough attention. Given that students are among the most frequent users of social media and online tools, it is imperative that we teach them about the potential consequences of what they post online. A whole generation of students can be held accountable for their virtual missteps, as everything they think and do is “Googleable”. Students’ posts, photos and comments (often made in passing or as a joke) have become a matter of public record that is permanent and easily searchable. Their thoughts and actions are on display for the whole world to see. While Chris Betcher’s quote about digital footprints carrying more weight than a resume may seem like a bit of an exaggeration, there is no question that one’s digital footprint has a significant effect on how we are perceived by others, whether it be friends, strangers or future employers. The reality is that universities and employers really do check students’ digital footprints and the fact of the matter is that many students are unaware of this. As Seth Godin says, “The best plan is to overload Google with a long tail of good stuff and to always act as if you’re on Candid Camera, because you are.”
Teachers can have a positive influence on how students construct their digital footprint. It is important to inform students about digital citizenship and what it looks like. A good approach for them to adopt before posting anything is the THINK questions acronym (Is is True? Is is Helpful? Is is Illegal? Is it Necessary? Is is Kind?) Students should be learning how to create informative and respectable profiles that they can be proud of showing as a representation of themselves. They should be directed to good examples of other students’ online identities, so they can model their virtual presence in a similar manner. We should teach them how to keep private information private. Helping students build a positive digital footprint is a skill that teachers can’t overlook.
It must be impressed upon students just how crucial their digital footprint really is to their future. Students must understand that if they’re not actively managing and defining their online identity, someone else will do it for them.