Those of us born pre-internet may ask: What do we mean by Digital Footprint? Let’s compare it with a footprint on a sandy beach. My foot will make a soft imprint on the sand. A child may build a sandcastle where my footprint was. Then high tide removes my footprint, leaving no evidence that I was ever there.
This is Nothing like a digital footprint. Once you make the imprint (post on any site on the internet), it can be copied, shared, distorted, and within seconds it is re-posted in a different way than the original post. Say your foot now has seven toes or is unusually large, so now your friends are led to believe you have abnormal feet.
Digital Footprint - What is it?
I’m grateful that the internet was not about when I was a teen. Apart from the odd polaroid among my close friends, there’s no evidence of some of the things I did. Unless they were there, prospective employers did not witness my version of the chicken dance at my parent’s 25th anniversary. Or me smashed off my face at a friend’s house-warming party.
My three daughters could have plenty of evidence for anyone to see on their social media platforms. Luckily my 22yr old, let’s call her Aye, is mature and caring enough to keep an eye on 13-yr old Bea. I have heard Aye call Bea and tell her to remove content because Bea posted something that may embarrass or harm her later. I could feel like an idiot for not seeing it myself, but how can I? I am not on these sites. I can do spot checks when I see them on their screens, but I am too busy to check everything they post. I am grateful Aye keeps an eye on Bea. By the time the youngest Cee becomes active online, she will have two sisters monitoring her digital footprint, encouraging her only to post content that aligns with our family values and leaves a positive digital footprint.
A positive digital footprint is an asset!
Why should you cultivate a positive digital footprint?
Let’s also consider what our friends are posting. What do we do if we see a pic posted, and it’s not flattering or potentially causes unintended harmful consequences? Considering we know this pic can travel around the globe within seconds, it is not unreasonable to ask for it to be removed. We must ensure our tamariki have the confidence to ask their friends to remove photos. Better yet, encourage our children to ask permission before they post pictures of others and ask others to get their permission to post their photos.
What if everyone is taught about digital footprint at an early age? What if asking permission is normalised? Should people have control over what is posted about them online? What if we become role models for the next generation of digital citizens by showing kindness and just taking more care?
From a young person's perspective
It’s hard to think about how the photos and videos you take when out with friends will affect you later on because you are in the moment. But they can have a profound impact on your future. Whether with future employers or other opportunities, your social media affects how people view you.
You could have the best reputation, but a single photo or video of you taken in certain situations could ruin your reputation. The photo or video could be there forever even if you delete it because someone could have a copy of it.
You need to know how images can implicate you and how they can be manipulated to change from the original photo. It's not that you should not take photos but be aware of how they could affect you later on if you are caught in something that you shouldn’t be or something that is “frowned upon”. For example, you don’t want to negatively impact your future because of something at one party. Even if the photo is only posted on private social media channels.
Empower your child
STOP - Posting online shouldn't be mindless. Encourage your child (and you!) to stop and think if they would be embarrassed if their content (even on private channels) was seen by their nana, teacher, parent or whānau. For older children, have them think about the potential consequences of what they are posting online. Will it help or harm their rep?
BLOCK - Encourage your child to block themselves from posting content that others could perceive negatively or that goes against family and personal values. Remove negative content.
TALK - Encourage them to talk to you or their friends or other whānau if they are unsure about the consequences of what they are posting online. Talk to them about what they are allowed to post online.
Need to talk about it?
Contact NETSAFE if you have any concerns about your digital footprint or if you are having trouble removing harmful content about you online. They can help.
Call toll-free on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723)
Complete an online contact form
Text ‘Netsafe’ to 4282