Social Web footprints that CAN be swept away

From obsessing about lack of control, we need to move on to where we DO have control in our online presence – and exercise it!

By Anne Collier

Educators at the University of British Columbia call it our “digital tattoos,” but there are some parts of our digital footprints that don’t have to be permanent. In a live-streamed (and now archived) Connected Learning hangout I participated in on Google+ this week, Jacqueline Vickery at the University of North Texas pointed out an important digital footprint consideration that young people and their parents might want to discuss: abandoned social network accounts. An example is when a lot of teens started migrating from MySpace to Facebook a few years ago. Professor Vickery pointed out that a lot of those accounts – with all those old photos and comments – were never closed. They aren’t doing their owners any good just sitting there.

Through the past decade we’ve all heard a lot about the permanent searchable archive the Web has become as something over which people have little control. Well, this is a part of our digital footprints over which we do have some control; we can close those moribund accounts as we learn to think about where we’re going, why, and what we’re leaving behind. Another good privacy best practice, besides this basic digital mindfulness, is what we do have control over in digital media. There’s privacy that’s largely the province of Internet service providers, but that’s not the all of it. There’s also privacy – and digital reputations and footprints – that’s dependent on our own good thinking and practice. In social media, privacy is distributed, the shared responsibility of us, our friends, and the services we use. Helping our children keep their online experiences safe means helping them to move through online and offline life as mindful stewards of and collaborators in their experiences. And what helps us do that in the context of today’s media environment is – to borrow a phrase from the authors of Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media (p. 6) – to see our children as “active, creative social agents” of their own and each other’s life experiences wherever they’re happening.

So thanks, Jacqueline! [Watch our conversation – it was great! Other participants were Prof. Jason Schultz at the University of California, Berkeley; Prof. Craig Watkins at the University of Texas, Austin; Prof. Renee Hobbs at the University of Rhode Island,; and Emma Llanso and Kevin Bankston at the Center for Democracy & Technology in Washington.]

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