The Buzz About Digital Footprints and Citizenship, Explained

Jenna

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Imagine this: you’re a little kid, and you’ve been playing out in the mud. When you walk into the house, you forget to take off your shoes. As you trek throughout the house, the soles of your shoes leave muddy footprints – there’s tracks of mud going through the kitchen, up the stairs, and into your room. Your parents follow these footprints, leading all the way into your room…and you get grounded for forgetting to wipe your shoes off before going up to your bedroom.

Just like your mom followed the footprints, which eventually led to you getting grounded, anyone can find out information about you based on what you post online. Your “digital footprint” is everything you say and do online, whether it’s a comment you make on a YouTube video or a post to a forum.

It doesn’t matter how big or how small this digital footprint is. What matters is whether your digital footprint is negative or positive. Below are some tips to make sure your digital footprint presents you in a positive light.

  • Never give away any personal information about yourself online. Personal information includes the town you live in, your street address, your phone number, your email, and if you are under the age of twelve, your birthday and age. If you have a rather “common” first AND last name, you can give that away, but if both your first and last name are not that common, only give away your first name if anything. I personally was able to find out the address and phone number of a Wikipedia vandal (a user who adds false information to Wikipedia articles) who used his “uncommon” name as his username. A WhitePages search of his name yielded only one result.
  • Think about what you post before you post it. Even though you might “delete” a comment or an image, it isn’t actually deleted. Nothing is ever deleted from the internet, as there are websites like the Internet Archive Wayback Machine  (http://archive.org/web/) which can access any webpage just as it appeared at a certain time in the past. So, before you make that comment telling a stranger that they looked fat in that picture they just posted, think to yourself: “Would I say this in person?” “How would my mother/father react if she/he saw me post this?”
  • Come up with a username wisely. First of all, don’t use the same username you’ve used on one site on another. People could search up that one username you always use and find out information about you via that username. So, if your username is “Robotgirl4ever” on one site, try to make your username on another site totally different from that one: instead of going for the slightly different “4everrobot”, go for something like “sweet_siamese_cat”. Second of all, make sure that your username is appropriate. You don’t want your username – which is visible to everyone who goes on the site you make the username for – to offend anyone or cause you to be reported by another user.

 

Here at Wantagh Middle School, we have been making conscious efforts to try and make sure that students’ digital footprints represent them in a positive light. We want to raise awareness on digital citizenship, which is safe and ethical behavior in the digital world. First, the teachers took a survey and were quite shocked by the results. Not as many students as they thought had accounts on social media sites, and the majority of students who had accounts kept theirs private. The results of the survey were revealed to the students on the same day Mrs. Matrochano showed the student body a student-created “commercial” encouraging their peers to have digital citizenship. After that, all the advisories in the school had their students look themselves up on Google and write down what came up on a foot-shaped piece of paper. The pieces of paper were then proudly displayed on the majority of the advisory classrooms’ doors. Most recently, students were asked in their advisories to write down the amount of time they used the computer or their mobile phone and calculate how many hours they used such devices in total for a week. 

I hope that in the future, students – like you and me – at Wantagh Middle School may pass on this knowledge beyond the school to help make sure that students in and outside of our community can strive to practice digital citizenship and have positive digital footprints.

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