Digital Citizenship

Digital Footprint and Online Reputation

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With billions of websites available, you may think that the information you post about yourself and your friends is fairly insignificant.

In today’s world, part of students’ reputations are comprised of what they write and do online. For young people, it is sometimes difficult to keep their long-term reputation in mind, especially when they get caught up in the moment.

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.

Digital Footprint

A digital footprint is a trail of data you create while using the Internet. In includes the websites you visit, emails you send, and information you submit to online services.

A footprint can be different from your digital reputation, in so far as your footprint may be anonymous or unintentional. A “passive digital footprint” is a data trail you unintentionally leave online. For example, when you visit a website, the web server may log your internet address, which identifies your Internet service provider and your approximate location. While your internet address may change and does not include any personal information, it is still considered part of your digital footprint. A more personal aspect of your passive digital footprint is your search history, which is saved by some search engines while you are logged in.

So no matter what you do online it’s important that you know what kind of trail you’re leaving, and what the possible effects can be.

While it’s not possible to have ZERO footprints, the first steps toward reducing your digital footprint and managing your digital reputation are not that hard.

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Digital Reputation

Your digital reputation is defined by your behaviours in the digital communities and by the content you post about yourself and others. Tagged photos, blog posts and social networking interactions will all shape how you are perceived by others online and offline, both now and in the future.

Trash talking, bullying, boasting misdeeds, questionable photos, locations can become part of a fairly permanent and damaging records.

Further, posting photos of the weekend on a social media site is a fun thing to do. But beware… nothing in the online world is confidential and your postings can last for years.
It may surprise you to learn that many companies use social media activity as part of a background check when screening potential employees. The may routinely look at their applicants’ public online activity.

Many employers will use social media as part of a background check.

This means we must be stewards of our own online identity and take swift action if untrue or negative information is posted about them online.

However, for all the damage a bad online reputation can do, it is equally true that honest, positive, respectful posts, pictures, and participation can also enhance reputation.


Where do I start to assess my digital reputation?

If you’ve never searched for yourself online, now may be the time to do so.

If you conduct a Google search on your name, you may find more than you bargained for. Consider the information you share about yourself on the social networking sites you have joined.

Your digital footprint is an online version of you! It may be the only description someone has of you. Make it positive.


How do I build positive online reputation?

The adage that “you are what you eat” can be applied to the digital world as well is in far as “you are what you post, share or like”.

So taking positive steps to build your reputation is important. This could include:

  • Joining a professional network such as LinkedIn and putting together a robust profile.
  • Commenting on professionally-oriented blogs and participate in online forums where you have expertise.
  • Start a blog or register a Web site in your own name. Write regularly on a subject about which you are knowledgeable. Invite visitors to make comments.

I did something stupid, can I clean up my digital reputation?

Cleaning up your digital reputation can be a difficult task but it is not impossible.

Approaching the service provider that is hosting the content, with your concern, is often a first step. Depending on the type of service provider and location, the results can be mixed.

An alternative may be to build a better image of yourself online over time. This is sometimes referred to as burying the bad with the good – creating new content (e.g. blogging) that outweighs the ‘bad’.

There are also many professional services that you can approach that will attempt to do this on your behalf.


Can I have multiple digital identities?


Using different e-mail addresses or screen names for each digital community is a powerful way to control your online reputation.

By not linking personal information you are able to protect some aspects of our identity and this may provide a level of comfort and trust. But remember to not cross reference or the two reputations may be associated.

Notwithstanding, always remember that, regardless of the account, you should always be mindful about what you are posting and who you are sharing it with.

From an ethical standpoint, anonymity does not grant us a license to misbehave and disregard key ethical principles.

Digital Footprint Tips

  • If you haven’t checked your privacy settings, there might be a whole lot of people who know more about you than you think. Look for “settings” or “options” on the websites sites you use.
  • Delete abandoned social media accounts.
  • Prevention is better than cure – there is no substitute for thinking before you post content online.
  • Google yourself or set a Google Alert. This will let you know when someone has posted something using your name.
  • Separate your personal and professional online profiles. Consider using a different name (e.g. a nickname).
  • Remove anything from your public profile that is personal or private, or that might cause potential problems with colleagues, your current or prospective employer, and avoid inappropriate language and ill-advised comments.
  • Remember that we live in a digital world and digital content can be easily accessed.


Digital Footprint Activity

Take a few minutes now and review your privacy settings in a social media platform. See below for a Privacy Setting Checklist.

Make it a priority to monitor and protect your online reputation.

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