How can we manage our online reputations?

By DQ Team  07/19/2018

Topics: Digital Footprint Management, Parenting Tips, DQ TOP Rules, DQ Parents’Handbook

Digital Footprint Management

It is difficult, if not impossible, to exist in today’s society without leaving digital traces. Online click data, credit card transactions, emails, and social media content such as status updates, photos and messages are all collected and maintained in a wide variety of places, under the control of a wide variety of entities, and stored for indefinite periods of time.”
In our previous post on privacy management, we addressed different measures that your family can take to care for your personal information online. Unsurprisingly, managing your personal information and managing your digital footprints – the trial of information that you leave while online – are two sides of the same coin. This month, we’re addressing digital footprint management skills and the steps that we can take to manage both our passive and active footprints online.
Have you ever thought about how many digital technologies have changed the way that we remember events in our lives? If you’re a Facebook, Instagram, or Google user, chances are that you’re using one of these platforms as a digital repository: whether for those photos that you’ve casually uploaded online or for the little missives about your day that you’ve posted; these digital archives have made it undoubtedly easier for us to reminisce about the good and bad times we’ve had without the accompanying dust that comes with flipping through old photo albums.
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at the University of Oxford, reminds us that the digital sphere has quite fundamentally changed our practices of remembering and the expectations we have of our memory: “Since the beginning of time, for us humans, forgetting has been the norm and remembering the exception. Because of digital technology and global networks, however, this balance has shifted. Today, with the help of widespread technology, forgetting has become the exception, and remembering the default.”
Be it through archiving services like the Wayback Machine or re-tagging friends on Facebook, it is increasingly difficult to take back something that’s found its way online. Information can easily be screenshotted, downloaded, and re-uploaded by anyone. As platforms are increasingly designed to encourage information sharing and reflection, our everyday use platforms like Facebook and Google – whether as repositories for personal memories, or for their purely functional location services – is leaving a digital trail of our lives and habits.
What might be the effect of remembering – rather than forgetting – being the default? In a digital environment ill-designed to respect personal data, the combination of publicly accessible personal information not only places children at risk of conventional security-related risks such as phishing scams or identity theft but also shapes their reputations – both online and offline. For example, we are increasingly seeing college administrators and employers browsing potential students’ and employees’ social media profiles as part of their admission criteria.
Back in 2014, user experience researcher Allison Woodruff published her research on the effects of digital footprints, revealing how attempts to address unfavourable online reputations were both uncomfortable and incredibly difficult. While the action may be taken to address a besmirched reputation, we recommend taking easy steps to prevent such damage from occurring in the first place. With children increasingly owning their own smartphones and digital devices, it is important that they understand the relative permanence of the things that they reveal on the Internet and learn how to manage this accordingly.
How, then, can you take action to manage your family’s digital footprints? Here are some of our DQ T.O.P Tips:
Talk: What are digital footprints?
There are two types of digital footprints that you and your family should recognise. The first is active digital footprints: these are publicly available information that you post online – such as status updates, tweets, and Instagram posts. The second is passive digital footprints: the traces that are less visible and slightly more difficult to keep track of – such as cookie histories and IP addresses of your digital devices.
As part of your active mediation of your child’s online activities, talk to them about digital footprints and develop their understanding of what it means to leave a “digital trail” of themselves online! For younger children, learning about active digital footprints are a great start: nudge them towards thinking about the nature of what they are posting and sharing online. For example, their likes on Instagram, shares, tweets, or Facebook comments may contain revealing personal information such as their ages or school names that can be used to build a profile of them.
Once your child understands that these publicly visible footprints should be managed – develop this line of thought even further by teaching them to recognise passive digital footprints. For example, popular shopping sites like Amazon and Taobao may be using third-party cookies (the fancy term for this is “programmatic advertising”) that can track your child’s movements across different sites, and build a profile of their likes and dislikes in order to show them targeted advertisements. Some browsers have directly addressed this: Mozilla, for example, has an online guide showing its users how to control both third-party cookies and tracking by advertisers.
As your child starts becoming more exploratory online, the more you address the management of both active and passive footprints, the more skilful your child – and your entire family! – will be in independently assessing the risks and benefits of browsing and sharing information online. While our understanding of the rapidly developing technology behind online ad-tracking and our own “data exhaust” is still developing, taking steps to manage our active digital footprints is not only easy but can be beneficial in the long run. That is, encourage your child to think about digital footprints not as a liability to their reputation, but as a chance to playfully express their interest and achievements. Posts that show their interests, achievements, and skills – academic or otherwise can be highlighted and celebrated for what they are.
Obey: Stop, Think, Connect
Not only does learning to manage our digital footprints go a long way towards our privacy management habits, considered as a part of overall ‘Netiquette’, our digital footprints also enables us to develop our empathy for others. When we help children understand that there is a wider audience privy to their posts, we’re helping them develop their sense of belonging as digital global citizens as well. An easy-to-follow rule that can help children manage their digital footprint is our 3-step “Stop, Think, Connect” guide:

  1. Stop before posting, sending, or forwarding a message online
  2. Think about whether what you may be posting contains personal information, or whether your comment may be harmful to others/reflect badly on yourself. Ask yourself: How might this make me look?
  3. Connect with others as a starting point. As with being a good digital citizen, remember to root your online posts with mutual respect for others. That is, remember to “Treat others how you want to be treated!”

Play: What are your digital footprints?
Routinely taking some time out from your schedule may sound unappealing, or an extravagance you think you cannot afford, but given the increasing ubiquity of our digital services (think about the last time you used your phone’s GPS, the last time you took a Grab ride, the last time you posted a picture or story on Instagram, or the last time you simply searched for something online) – doing so is part and parcel of being responsible and accountable for your actions online.
Together with your child, set some time out once every two months or so to regularly check your digital footprints. Remember, this is a guide and should be adapted to your digital habits, if you and your family are heavy technology users and enjoy creating and publishing your own online content, you might want to head back frequently to manage your digital footprints. Here are some simple things that you can do together as a family:

  • Search your own name online:
    • This can be in a regular search engine like Google and DuckDuckGo, or on a social networking site like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and see what kind of results are returned – your child’s school name? Or perhaps a link to their Facebook profile?

  • Ask your child if they think that the information revealed may be too personal – and if so, try to remove that piece of information, or take steps to adjust who has access to this information by playing around with your privacy settings on your social networking sites. Recall again that personal information refers not just too true or false information about someone, but can singularly or collectively be used to identify someone.
  • Evaluate the types of information that you have shared online – look at the posts that you’ve shared, liked, or posted on your social media pages. You can prompt your child through questions like: Do you think sharing this video/image is okay? Is that how I want others to see me? Could others use this information to hurt me?

Whether you go for a cursory browse or a deep dive, do it as a family – and don’t hide your own digital footprints and management habits from your children! Addressing the issue together will enable your children to see how easy it is to actively manage their online reputations, and empower them to consciously use their ever-expanding digital media tools safely and responsibly!

This is the sixth in a series of 9 posts that the DQ Institute is publishing for parents and caretakers to help you get started on inculcating healthy and responsible digital habits for you and your family. If you’ve found these tips helpful, you can find more in our previous post about teaching your child to be a digital global citizen. Otherwise, check back next month for some more tips on managing your cybersecurity.
1. Haimson, O. L., Brubaker, J. R., Dombrowski, L., & Hayes, G. R. (2016, May). Digital footprints and changing networks during online identity transitions. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 2895-2907). ACM.
2. Mayer-Schönberger, V. (2011). Delete: The virtue of forgetting in the digital age. Princeton University Press.
3. Woodruff, A. (2014, April). Necessary, unpleasant, and disempowering: reputation management in the internet age. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 149-158). ACM.