Whose Footprint Is It?

As an administrator, I often deal with disciplinary issues that expand into the digital world. In fact, one of my most recent incidents involves Twitter, Photoshop, and shared passwords. Without saying anything else, I am sure you can imagine what havoc these three things combined might wreak on the social lives of teenagers.

Therefore, I really enjoyed reading about teaching children how to create positive digital footprints. I loved the example of the father who wished as much for his child to have a digital footprint as he did that it was positive.

“One of my worst fears as [my children] grow older is that they won’t be Googled well. … that when a certain someone (read: admissions officer, employer, potential mate) enters “Tess Richardson” into the search line of the browser, what comes up will be less than impressive. That a quick surf through the top five hits will fail to astound with examples of her creativity, collaborative skills, and change-the-world work. Or, even worse, that no links about her will come up at all” (Educational Leadership).

The last line in this quote is particularly thought provoking. It says, that in this day and age, having a digital footprint is as essential as ensuring it is positive. Hence, rather than use scare tactics to try to keep kids offline or censor social media, as is the norm these days, we must educate children about proper use. The stakes are high; mistakes carry far more weight once online than in the past.

This raises another point. If we are responsible for our own digital footprint, who else has a say in it and what impact do others have?

Recently, I was reviewed on ISR. I hesitate to draw attention to this fact, as I don’t really want emphasize it or sound defensive, and yet, this example is too relevant to dismiss. Needless to say, the review was not positive. I have never considered ISR a particularly credible site, and when I read the review, I thought, “Wow, someone (past or present) is really angry with me.”

For me, this was cause for reflection and while the review stung a bit, I used it more as a lesson because I never wish for anyone to feel what this person who wrote the review feels. It is a good lesson in intent versus perception, and as I advocate on this blog, we should look at things from altering perspectives. So upon first read, I decided to approach this negative review from a positive angle: to ensure that my actions do not communicate these qualities and to ensure the message received is the same as my intent. It has been a great week for self-reflection.

However, after reading the series of articles on your digital footprint, I re-googled myself this week. As of March 23, one of my hits is this ISR review (you can’t actually access the review unless you are a member, but my name is there nonetheless). I am now less okay with this review than I was upon first read.

A pilot friend of mine was appalled that a site such as ISR even exists and allows anonymous reviews. In his field, there exists a similar quality review site, but anyone who attempts to review another person in such a way is automatically kicked off the site with privileges revoked.

While not thrilled about the review at all, when I knew the review was on ISR, I was okay with it. I feel that most people take this site with a grain of salt. However, now that this is public and part of my digital footprint, I begin to question the ethics of all of this. Why does someone else get a say in my digital image? Where is the fine line between disagreement and dishonesty?

Thus, I go back to my original question: If we are responsible for our own digital footprint, who else has a say in it and what impact do others have?

3 Replies to “Whose Footprint Is It?”

  1. Tara, it’s a great question!!

    I, too, did a search for myself on Google and was shocked to find information about me listed on Mylife.com. It listed my age, locations I lived in for the past twenty years, who I was related to (including naming my ex-husband), and more. According to their privacy policy, all the information they posted was available in public record. However, if I wanted access to “my information” on their website I needed to create a “free” account. The scam here is that in order to change or delete my information from their site, I needed to pay a subscription fee (upwards of $500 by some reports!) There is currently a class-action suit against this company for fraud and misrepresentation.

    Yet, what I find absolutely unethical and reprehensible in this case, is the intentional accumulation of information from a multitude of different sources of public record (postal records, marriage/divorce/death records, employment history, etc) to create profiles of random people for publication, and then hold that “profile” ransom.

    As you say, who else should have a say in our digital footprint?

  2. Anonymity is important in today’s world, but as your example shows, it’s a double-edged sword. When whistleblowing, anonymity is the protection that people need to reveal problems in a system. But when it comes to writing personal opinions, internet anonymity has given people license to write with a vehemence/bigotry/idiocy/etc that they would rarely, if ever, consider resorting to in a face-to-face conversation. People have not yet adapted to the idea that the internet gives you access to many audiences; for whatever reason (I do feel that this is because you don’t have to face the person you’re accusing), they have the idea that you can write in that very public forum the way you might write to a friend in confidence.

  3. Tara- this is a great question for our students as what they do/post today may come back to bite them in the future. I must say… I Google well 🙂

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