The Internet is a very powerful tool used by billions of people every second of the day. We can now communicate very easily with people that are half way across the world just by the click of a button.
While access to information, forums, chat rooms, gaming groups, social networks, shopping and emails is so easy by using a variety of different devices, the need for us to be aware of what is happening when we use the Internet is becoming increasingly important.
When we walk across mud, snow or sand we leave footprints that are visible. The same applies when we use the Internet – we leave a digital footprint trail. Every click, every post, every submit leaves a trace. As soon as you post something online it is available for other users to do with it what they want. Even with the best privacy settings, you are no longer in control of the information once you have posted it. Other users can save it, share it, comment on it or use it in a negative way against you. Once it is on the World Wide Web it is potentially there forever. Even if you delete a post, remove a picture or a comment they will still be present on a server somewhere.
You are responsible for the information you put online. Even if you use false profiles to try and hide your identity, the user profile can be linked back to you if required. So, if the profile is used to do harm like cyberbullying and it is reported to the Police, they have the means to trace that profile back to its creator. Even if users attempt to hide their presence on the Internet they are never truly hidden. Also, you are responsible for the information you have stored on your computers, mobiles, tablets or any device that connects to the Internet that you can save things to. Be very careful that the information you are storing or sharing is legal and not abusive in anyway.
Be mindful of how much information you share about yourself online. Keep personal details safe. You would not choose to share that information to a stranger in the street so why would you do it online. Stay safe online by keeping up to date with your privacy settings. Sites do have a habit of changing their privacy settings without telling us so keep an eye on them. Stay in control of who can see your posts and who you make friends with. If it is someone you don’t know be careful because it could be a false account where the user has lied about their age or gender to get to know you. Remember, it is more important to have friends you know than lots of friends you don’t know or don’t know well because you never know what they are doing with the information you post.
Increasingly, colleges, universities and potential employers will search the Internet to see what they can find out about you. If you have been using the Internet for a while and have not protected yourself or been careful about how you are portraying yourself online, that is a whole lot of information they can find out about you. On the flip side, if you have used the Internet in a positive way this can be helpful. First impressions are important so when posting online think – would I be happy for my parents/guardians to see this. If the answer is ‘no’ then don’t post it.
- the Internet is public space with a large audience
- digital footprints can be searched or shared
- once online, things can be there forever
- you should always think before you post online
- you should keep certain personal details private
- individuals can take control of their digital footprints
- digital footprints can be helpful or harmful to reputations
- Treat your password like your toothbrush – don’t share it with anyone and change it often.
- Always remember to log off when you have finished with an online service.
- Be aware that most of the websites you visit will make a note of your visit and may also track the websites you visit before and after their website!
- Let an adult know if anything you read or see makes you feel worried or upset.
To help you keep track of your online presence here are some tips.
- Search yourself online: Do a simple web search of your name and see what you can find. If you find something you don’t like, remove it if you can.
- Check privacy settings: make sure you know what information you are sharing on the websites you use, particularly on social networking sites. Most social networking sites have privacy settings to help you manage the content you share and who you share it with; you can decide if you want your posts to be shared with your online friends and followers only or with the public. Keep in mind that your friend’s content and their settings can also affect your digital footprint.
- Think before you post: before you post that funny picture of your friend, or make that joke about someone on Twitter, ask yourself do you want everyone to see it; friends, family, grandparents, future employers? Would you be happy for others to post that type of content about you?
- Deactivate and delete: when you stop using a social networking profile or website, it’s a good idea to deactivate or delete your account. This will mean the content is no longer live and should not be searchable online; it will also remove the risk of these accounts being hacked without you knowing.
- Make a positive footprint: we hear a lot about the negative footprints left behind online. The best way to keep your online reputation in check is to use your time online to get creative and create a positive footprint.
Helpful Advice for Parents/Guardians
- Be aware of what your child/children are doing online and become familiar with how the sites work so you can chat to them about it.
- Let them know what is expected of them and what is a “no go”.
- Ensure that they know the dangers of posting content and personal details including pictures.
- Encourage them not to divulge any personal details such as age, address or contact details to anyone online.
- Explain the dangers of posting content that you feel might be inappropriate or controversial and the trail that can be left behind.
- If they feel they might have put themselves in danger, or are in danger, remember to reassure them that you are always there to support them.
- Many people want to share the news they are going on holiday – think about the impact and danger this could have on your family.
- Ensure they understand it is a criminal offence to use the Internet to threaten or harass people.