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digital footprint; digital citizen; spotlight series

Your Digital Footprint and Being a Good Digital Citizen

Mike Erath
3 min read
Sep 13, 2022 10:56:20 AM

What students need to know

The digital world we live in today is challenging to navigate. As the air gets a little crisper and students start heading back to school, we will be providing content throughout September to help students, parents, and educators navigate our digital world safely. This week, we focus on the students, what it means to be a good digital citizen, and understanding your digital footprint.

Digital citizenship

Technology innovation has exploded in the last 20 years. While that provides many conveniences, it also represents freedom. Students have access to more information, entertainment, and people than previous generations could even imagine. Digital citizenship is about acting responsibly online. Being a good digital citizen means knowing what is right and wrong, exhibiting intelligent technology behavior, and making good choices when online.

There are three key areas to consider with digital citizenship.

  1. Unprecedented access to information could also mean giving strangers unprecedented access to your own personal information. In the digital age, it’s important to know how to spot a phishing scam and create secure passwords.
  2. The wide-open nature of the internet makes understanding your audience very tricky. Anything posted online today has the potential to reach anyone and everyone. You need to be extra careful not to use words, emojis, or images that could be misunderstood or cause harm to others.
  3. The basic idea regarding ownership hasn’t changed much. You can’t use something without permission if it doesn’t belong to you. It’s easier to understand with physical objects – not stealing your friend’s video game or your neighbor’s car. But it also applies to content online. Don’t use or take credit for anything online unless you have permission to do so.

Characteristics of a good digital citizen

Here’s a short list of what it takes to be a good digital citizen.

  • Use technology to participate in educational, cultural, and economic activities
  • Use technology to relate to others in positive and meaningful ways
  • Respect the concepts of privacy and freedom of speech in the digital world
  • Develop and use critical thinking skills online

Being a good digital citizen is mostly about the fundamental golden rule of treating people how you’d like to be treated – in real life and in your digital life. Respecting others online is also key to preventing cyberbullying.

When you talk to your parents about sports, clubs, classes, and activities every week, also talk to them about what you saw online – especially if anything or anyone seemed strange, scary, or inappropriate. Your parents can help you balance your online freedom with responsibility and guide you to developing good digital citizenship.

Your digital footprint

Part of being a good digital citizen is understanding the digital footprint you leave online. While a lot of what we see online can seem fleeting like a snap that is gone just a few minutes later, the digital world is permanent. With each post, you are creating a digital footprint or digital tattoo. A digital footprint is the trail of information that exists online about you and your activity.

Why do digital footprints matter?
  • They are permanent, and once something is public (or semi-public like a Facebook post), you have little control over how others may use it.
  • A digital footprint can determine a person’s digital reputation, which is now considered as important as their offline reputation.
  • Employers, colleges, and universities can check your digital footprint, especially social media, before making acceptance or hiring decisions.
  • Words and photos you post online can be altered or misinterpreted.
  • Content that was meant to be private can spread to a broader audience.
  • Cybercriminals can phish for account access or create false identities based on your data.
Protecting your digital footprint

Being safe and responsible online will help ensure your digital footprint does not damage your reputation.

Be careful with social media. Social media is a great way to connect with friends and family, but it’s also easy to share too much information online. Be careful about what you post on social media and adjust your settings to private to limit access to your data. What you post or say online sends a message about who you are, so think before you post.

Use strong passwords. A strong password is one of the best ways to protect your online identity. Make sure to use a unique password for each of your accounts and never share them with anyone.

Cybersecurity. You should always adhere to good cybersecurity practices. Make sure you have the latest security updates on your mobile device and be careful about the links you click and websites you visit.

Final thoughts

Digital footprints are a part of our everyday life. Being aware of the dangers and taking the necessary precautions will help protect you from the negative aspects of digital footprints and make you a better digital citizen.


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