I have often observed that the concept of digital tattoos, or “what you post can’t be taken back” seems to be lost on almost everyone, not just kids. For almost seven years now, I have talked to students, parents and professionals about responsible online posting. While my presentations are constantly changing to keep up with the ever-changing technology, my message is something that never changes: Think before you post.
When it comes to digital branding and online reputations, many people seem to focus on high school and college students, who could be potentially jeopardizing their futures by the things they share on social networking sites. While this is a legitimate concern, and one that I certainly address with both age groups, I think it’s important for this message to be spread across all age ranges.
Parents: As a new parent myself, I enjoy sharing pictures and new milestones with family and friends on social networking sites, via email and picture messaging.
However, I feel a certain sense of responsibility to my daughter when posting and sharing things (who, by the way, at 12 months can scroll through pictures on my iPhone with the signature finger swipe). While Facebook may be ancient history when my daughter becomes a teenager, I’m still putting pictures/comments out there that could resurface later, ultimately becoming part of her digital brand. I’m creating digital footprints that could impact her at a later date. Before sending or posting anything, I find myself being conscious of how these pictures/comments could effect her down the line: would this embarrass her if her middle school peers saw it?
This not only applies to what we post about our children, but of course also how we conduct ourselves – as we are ultimately a part of their brands as well. Facebook has a great new feature that allows us to essentially “hide” all events before a certain user-determined date. Perhaps as we start to have kids or our kids grow older, it may be time to think about taking advantage of this feature if we weren’t super responsible about posting in years past; you know, college parties, bachelor/bachelorette parties, etc. Just something to think about!
Kids: Traveling the country talking to kids, I find this concept of digital branding to be lost on kids. Developmentally, most teens and pre-teens aren’t able to appropriately conceptualize life-long consequences, so it’s our responsibility to help teach them to be responsible posters/sharers.
Additionally, technology has made it so that the instantaneous nature of posting anything removes the important cognitive process which requires an individual to stop and think. Ultimately any image and/or comment could not only land in the hands of principals and teachers, but admissions personnel, and potential employers. I’ve heard far too many horror stories of kids getting denied admission, kicked off of certain sports teams, losing scholarships or even fired from babysitting jobs because of inappropriate posts. It’s a split-second decision that can result in life-long consequences; it’s just not worth it.
Technology and innovation allow us to do some pretty awesome things, including providing a way to share our lives with distant family and friends. My message to students and adults regarding digital tattoos is: if you’re going to get one, make sure it’s a good one.
For everything we share, send or save, there is a digital footprint that is pretty hard to take back once it’s out there. Digital branding can be a positive thing, but can be equally as damaging if bad decisions are made; so once again, make sure you think before you post, and certainly pass that habit along to your kids.
Former Director of Internet Safety for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and Intelligence Analyst for the Massachusetts State Police, Katie LeClerc Greer travels the country educating students, parents, administrators and law enforcement officers about technology and digital responsibility/safety. You can learn more about Katie at: www.klgreer.com