A digital footprint is the trail of data an internet user leaves behind while searching the internet. The websites visited, the posts, likes, and comments left by a user on social media, and the products bought are all recorded on each individual’s unique digital footprint. The types of devices and browsers used are also recorded, encompassing every single information about a certain individual online. Digital footprints are mostly divided into two main categories: Active and Passive Digital Footprints.
Active Digital Footprints consist of users who intentionally share personal information about themselves on the internet. For example, if a user creates an account, goes through a registered profile or username on social media or any website, and creates posts or accepts cookies, their digital footprint is considered active.
Passive Digital Footprints consist of an accumulated amount of information collected without users being aware of it. This mostly occurs when a user accepts website cookies, agrees with terms and conditions that collect private information such as IP addresses, and when social networking sites target users with specific content based on their social media activity.
Maintaining a positive digital footprint is essential because it may affect a person’s online and offline reputation as well as their relationships; a social media post or vent can cause various misunderstandings, therefore, it’s best to calm yourself when you’re feeling strong emotions before posting anything. It may also have a long-lasting impact on someone’s future and affect employment and education opportunities (a great example of this is college admissions, according to a Kaplan survey, around 66% of American universities said that checking an applicant’s social media and digital footprint is a fair game while taking the process of admissions. It’s also important to remember: Everything on the internet stays on the internet forever. But… How do we learn to maintain a positive digital footprint?
To start, you could search your name or username online, check what results about you come up, and make sure to take note of the negative results so that you can delete the unflattering content. Don’t overshare any sensitive or personal information about yourself (such as your phone number, employer, credit or debit card information, ID, passport, etc.) online. Finally, it’s important to always think before you post, as your posts and social media may have a positive or negative toll on your future. If working with younger students, you could use the THINK mnemonic by Melissa Pilakowski as a reference and to help them remember when posting:
- T: is it True?
- H: is it Helpful?
- I: is it Inspiring?
- N: is it Necessary?
- K: is it Kind?
With older students, an adult, such as a teacher or guardian, can approach them with information about how a negative digital footprint can haunt them while acknowledging the benefits of social media. Giving students a balanced view can help them navigate their digital footprint successfully with more thought and consciousness.