The Circuit: Digital Footprint

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2021 seems like it was a lifetime ago, but amongst all the pandemic and lockdown drama something else played out in the management of sports teams that had me fascinated. First a Middlesbrough player was charged by the Football Association for a social media post that he had made nine years previously when he was only 14. At a similar time the English Cricket Board launched an investigation into social media posts made several years previously by a player when they were 15.

There are more and more examples available online about how historic social media posts or writing has impacted upon an individual’s employment or education opportunities, as more and more universities and employers investigate an individual’s digital footprint prior to making an offer of a placement or employment. Which means it is more and more important that we teach our children the importance of ensuring that their social media and online behaviour is consistent with the image that they would want to present to future universities or employers.

In circumstances like these there is sometimes a temptation to opt out of having an online presence totally; ban social media and you cannot fall into this trap. Obviously I am a Computer Scientist and probably biassed in this respect but I have been fortunate enough to have had many job offerings and speaking opportunities sent to me, purely on the basis of my online presence. 

Likewise teenagers who have lived with social media see little difference in socialising online and offline and it is important for them to not be seen as different to their peers and maintain some form of presence online.

So we need to talk with our children about the importance of ensuring they are creating a positive digital footprint online that will ensure that, looked back upon in several years’ time, it will not create a negative image of them to future employers.

Here are a few tips:

  1. “Would you like to see whatever you posted on the front page of a newspaper?”

I volunteered in Search and Rescue for many years. One of the things we constantly reminded ourselves and our colleagues was, would we want (potentially grieving) relatives to see pictures of us acting in this way? We acted, even when alone, in a way consistent with that value. (We never knew when a journalist with a high-powered camera lens was watching us!)
When talking to young people about what they are posting online, I often ask, “Would you want that picture on the front page of a newspaper? Would you want your favourite Aunt to see what you posted? How would that look to a future employer?” Think about having those conversations regularly.

  1. Discuss with them the idea of “online permanence”: Explain how once something is posted online it is extremely difficult to permanently remove it. Text, photos or even their online presence can be screenshotted and posted again over and over.
  2. Highlight Both Positives and Negatives: Explain how a digital footprint can be beneficial, like showcasing talents and achievements, but also discuss the potential risks of oversharing or engaging in negative online behaviours. Use real-life examples to support your discussions.
  3. Lead by Example: Demonstrate good digital footprint management in your own online activities. Discuss why you are posting in a way that makes you look better in potential employers eyes, as well as just making you a good human being in general. Discuss that, just as they should be careful about what they post about themselves, they should also respect the privacy and reputation of others as you do.

As we have said before in these articles, start early and keep these conversations going. Tailor the complexity of these ideas to your child’s age and development. And, continue to work towards an open dialogue about all their online activities.

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