Whatever the topic may be, you can always rephrase this famous Spider-Man quote to fit your theme. For me, it was the perfect way to start a conversation around our digital footprint. After all, we are entirely and singularly responsible for how we shape it. However, how many of us think about it when posting content online? As stated in the TechTerms definition: Everyone who uses the Internet has a digital footprint, so it is not something to be worried about. However, it is wise to consider what trail of data you are leaving behind. […] While you can often delete content from social media sites, once digital data has been shared online, there is no guarantee you will ever be able to remove it from the Internet.
MAKE YOUR CASE IN 280 CHARACTERS (previously 140)
Twitter is often the battleground of choice for activist campaigns. Its character limit encourages the use of brief, poignant messages. The format allows them to be understandable and potentially highly shared. Anyone can easily follow a movement’s twitter stream and decide how actively they want to engage with it.
But Twitter is not the only platform out there. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made fantastic use of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to propel herself to Congress. The youngest congress-woman has amassed 379K followers on Twitter, 88.5K fans on Facebook and 127K followers on Instagram. Throughout her campaign, she masterfully posted cross-platform and was quick to engage with supporters and potential voters. And, after her successful election, she has continued to showcase her new life and engaging with her supporters.
Much like her, many have taken to the web to grow their networks and make themselves heard. The rapid spread of social platforms has produced a generation keen on sharing and engaging both online and offline. When done positively and in a polite manner, these can be great boosts to your digital footprint… but what about the less savoury comments?
FROM DISCUSSION TO DISRUPTION: ONLINE HARASSMENT
Every good has evil and our use of the internet is no exception. How many times have you seen a nasty comment from a nondescript user with a blank avatar? Just like any positive engagement, negative comments and heated emails also have an impact on our digital footprint.
The statistics around harassment are quite sobering: just last year, 37% of adult internet users who responded to a YouGov survey reported being victims of severe harassment online. 56% of these attacks happened over Facebook, with Twitter and YouTube coming in second and third place.
Comedian John Oliver referred to the internet as a “haven for harassment” in a video he published 4 years ago. Sadly, the concepts he highlights behind a wall of satire and sarcasm are still very relevant today. Oliver points out how we all experience the internet differently, and how women tend to become targets of online harassment. He highlights how the police – a public service meant to enforce the law and keep civilians safe – was unable to guarantee these women’s’ safety in these situations.
He very eloquently says: “Too often you hear people play down the dangers of the internet by saying ‘Well, relax it’s not real life’ but it is and it always has been.” And he has a point. Too many people hide behind anonymous avatars and spend hours unleashing malice online. There are braver individuals who spread negativity from their public profiles, but often you will struggle to put a face or a name to someone.
I do recommend that people watch John Oliver’s videos, as he makes great points on a variety of subjects. However, I will include a warning for strong language and adult content.
PASSIVE AND ACTIVE DATA
I’ve mentioned the good and I’ve mentioned the bad, but how does this all link to digital footprints? Both examples I’ve given are active elements that shape our unique footprint. So, what makes up the passive part of the footprint? That would be all the browsing and clicking that we do. This information is usually collected without us knowing. It is not publicly available, but it can be valuable to companies for targeted marketing purposes.
But what is relevant to companies can also be relevant to criminals, who can piece together a shockingly comprehensive profile purely based on this footprint we all leave behind. In the most extreme cases, it can lead to fraud and identity theft. In a less extreme case, but just as damaging, it could become your professional undoing.
OUR DIGITAL FOOTPRINT, OUR RESPONSIBILITY
Quoting John Oliver again: the internet is an incredible tool, but like most tools, it can also be used as a weapon. As users, we should be striving to have a positive impact in the world around us and to keep our footprint as clean as possible. We live in a world where anyone who wants it could potentially access our data for a fee. Being mindful of our online behaviours should be common decency and common sense.
There are quite a few areas that I would have loved to expand on, which will have to be covered in later posts. I focused on the more positive aspects of social media and digital activism without touching on the dangers that come along with it. Likewise, I briefly touched on online harassment, when I could say so much more about the topic.
What would you want to read about next? Please do comment below or tweet your thoughts to me at @jokelogic.