Understanding how to manage your online reputation or “digital footprint” is tricky business, even for those of us who have been using the internet for a long time.
Almost everyone at one time or another has been guilty of sharing too much information or posting a photo that later makes us cringe. To complicate matters further, it’s not just our own online actions we need to worry about—what others say and post about us also contributes to our digital footprint.
In his new book, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (2012), Howard Rheingold writes, “… whether or not we do anything about it, the webbed world is full of information about us that is provided by other people, including their opinions about us—the fact of life we know as reputation.”
While reputation management remains challenging for adults, imagine how difficult it is for a child to understand how the digital decisions they make today will stay with them, and the rest of cyberspace, forever.
Colleges and universities are increasingly relying on digital data when deciding who gets letters of acceptance, using sites like Zinch that lets students post profiles and links about themselves. Employers are increasingly conducting digital background checks on applicants before entrusting them with jobs. Today our digital footprint is our new first impression, and it starts taking shape the minute we go online.
It’s simple really, they provide a blank template of a footprint that students fill out with illustrations and words depicting the digital impression they hope to make upon the world in the next ten years.
I tried out this lesson last year with a roomful of sixth graders at Journey School. Their aspirations ranged from winning the Nobel Peace Prize and the Heisman trophy to feeding the homeless and performing hundreds of pet rescues. They imagined becoming future presidents, professional soccer players, fashion stylists, scientists, musicians, and authors.
They wanted to find a cure for cancer and make the world’s first Horchata-flavored ice cream. (Can’t wait for that!)
Whether these digital dreams come true or not, I believe this lesson helps students understand that in today’s participatory culture, they have the power to both create and shape their online reputations. Hopefully the digital footprints these students created will become their blueprints, helping them design an online reputation that they can be proud of.
———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-Diana Graber is Co-Founder of CyberWise, a Digital Hub that helps busy adults understand and use digital tools to enhance learning. Diana also teachers CyberCivics at Journey School in Aliso Viejo, CA, and is the recent recipient of an M.A. in Media Psychology and Social Change from Fielding Graduate University. Image Credit: Digital Footprint by CommonSense Media.