We hear the phrase digital footprint a lot these days, for example the recent story of Paris Brown where her digital footprint had uncovered some inappropriate comments made several years earlier. But what is a digital footprint – well, put into a sentence, it is the trace of a persons online activity.
That said, what does this mean in reality? Everything that is typed, liked, tagged etc online leaves a trace behind and that becomes part of a digital footprint. Then add to that every time a person logs in or out of a website, uses mobile data on a phone, collects emails via a tablet, plays an online game and so on and so on and you can begin to see how a digital footprint is more than just the odd Tweet that we regret.
It’s not too many years ago that I remember learning the phrase ‘ego search’ (or ego surf). This wasn’t a complex psychological term, but simply the act of putting your name into a search engine and seeing if ‘you’ came up in the results. Back then it was somewhat of a challenge and indeed achievement if a search engine could find you. I recall pressing the search button and getting my name to appear twice in the results (ok, so it was actually three times, but the third one wasn’t me!).
Repeating the same exercise today I am faced with about 19 million results. Now, I’m not going to check every one of the 19 million to see how many are actually me, although I dare say, it will be more than two.
There are many parts of our digital footprint that are out of our control or just happen behind the scenes (like cookies or what other people say about us for example), but what is important is to make sure the things that are in our control are handled responsibly. It’s all too easy these days to make a comment on an online forum or social media platform, but what is easy to forget is that this comment will leave a permanent trace on a digital footprint.
To demonstrate both the scale of the digital footprint and also how everything leaves a trace, why not try typing your school name into Google and record the number of results. Some of these may include student social media accounts, directory listings and the school website pages, so it is also worth discussing this. Then, using the search tools, select a custom date range from several years ago and note the difference in both the volume and the nature of the listings.
Find more teaching suggestions in our E-safety Support Digital Footprint lesson plan.