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Teenagers: Why You Should Care About Your Digital Footprint

Social networking is an exciting way to stay informed, grow relationships and have fun. An often forgotten point is that with social networks come preferred practices, things you should know about your privacy and how your digital footprint can be affected.

Whether it's your first day on Facebook or you've been on forever and have 300 friends, a lot of teens probably don't know about their digital footprint. That's okay, as long as you learn about it here, before you turn around and get bitten by your posts.

Your digital footprint is the data trail you leave with everything you do online. From your smartphone to the Internet and social networks, your data is being stored.

Information travels fast and is often taken out of context.

Body language is said to account for 50-70 percent (statistics vary) of all communication. Remove that body language (online) and there are a lot of ways statements can be interpreted.

Think about that time your friend sent you a text or message on Facebook and you freaked out, only to find out they were either joking or meant no harm by it. Did you get mad? Say something mean in return? Run to another friend and tell them what was said? We have to learn to take a step back and breathe; then we need to think about what the message was meant to convey.

What you think the person means, or what you really want them to mean can be a lot different from what the person intended. Misinterpretation can lead to a lot of wrong conclusions, as well as the spreading of rumors or even hurtful truths.

If it's on the Internet it must be true. Wrong! Have you ever shared something that later turned out to be false? But since it was breaking news or seemed true, you assumed it was true. Oops, I think we all have.

Depending on what it is that you see, take a moment to find out if it's true. Call your friend or check other news sources,. If you're not sure, wait.

Don't be impulsive.

Easier said than done, right? It's so easy for us to turn to social networks in the heat of the moment and express our feelings. Hiding behind a computer screen or smartphone gives us more courage to say things we wouldn't typically say.

Some people develop a personality online that they wish they had in real life. Be yourself online and offline. It's so easy to become something we aren't online. Stay true to yourself. People will see through it and know who you truly are. So be you.

If you do want an outlet to further explain your thoughts and feelings, think about blogging! Blogging is a more appropriate space for some topics we think about posting on Facebook. If you do decide to blog, be mindful of what you say, how it can be interpreted and what it says about you. It's still a digital place where your body language can't be seen.

If you wouldn't say it face to face, don't say it in the social space.

‘Treat others as you want to be treated’, still applies online. It's pretty easy to comment on someone's status or photo with what we are really thinking. But if you wouldn't say it to their face, don't say it on their page. If someone said the same comment to you, would it hurt your feelings? That's cyber-bullying.

Think of something you can say to compliment that person, or just stay quiet. We are so quick to comment on photos, status and tweets that we often forget to think before we type. There are a few questions listed at the bottom of this post that you should ask yourself before posting online. But one question you can always ask yourself is, "Would this hurt my feelings if someone said it to me?"

Thinking about someone else's feelings might make you think back to your younger years and your mom saying, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." It's still true as a teenager, adult and senior citizen. Some of us have learned the hard way. We tell you these things so that you can prevent negativity and hurt feelings from happening.  

Not everything is personal

Raise your hand if you've read a friend’s status or post and gotten offended or freaked out by it. You either stayed quiet because you were so hurt, commented to fight back or put up a related status of your own. Turns out, that status wasn't about you and now you're fighting with your best friend.

I've reacted that way and I've had others react that way, too. The best ways to avoid this is to not post vague status remarks and not assume everything is about you. Why are we so quick to assume something negative is about us? Do we deep down want a fight? I don't think anyone does. Just take a second, breathe and reread a post before responding. Even better, if you're not sure, privately message your friend and ask them about it.   

You are not as anonymous as you think

Assume that there is no such thing as privacy. Blogs, emails, websites and comments can be tracked back to you. This shouldn’t scare you, but will help you reconsider your potential online actions.

The Library of Congress is archiving American Twitter use for posterity. What does that mean? Your tweets are being saved. So tweet smartly.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) allows the government to obtain access to digital communications including email, Facebook messages, information on your cloud and a variety of other files.

Your online actions could make or break you

College recruiters, potential employers and colleagues will look at your digital footprint. If you wouldn’t say it or show it to your grandma, it probably shouldn’t go online. From photos to status remarks, you should always portray yourself in a positive light.

Everyone has something positive to say; you can even talk about your accomplishments. From winning a state championship to getting accepted to a college, highlight the great things you want others to know about you.

Stop Before You Hit Submit

Consider the reactions of those who see your content. Before you post, think:

  • Does anyone really care?
  • Is this really something I want to share or am I just venting?
  • How would I feel if I was the one receiving or reading that?
  • Could this hurt someone I know?

Further:

  • Who will see it?
  • What can they do with it?
  • Could this impact me in the future?
  • Why do I want or need to share it?

Bonus:Did I spellcheck?

Sometimes, even when you post something, regret it and quickly delete it, someone else has taken a screen shot of it. Even when you delete a post or photo, it's stored digitally. You and your networks might not be able to see it, but it still exists.

You hear it all the time, but you think you’re unbreakable, resilient and that it won’t happen to you. You may get sick of hearing, ‘treat others as you want to be treated’, and, ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all’. But the reality is, these sayings are all true and some of us have learned them the hard way.

Online privacy, cyber-bullying and your digital footprint are no joke. Take care of yourself, your reputation and look out for your friends!

Lessons Learned

  • It's easy for posts and comments to be misinterpreted
  • Don't be impulsive
  • If you wouldn’t say it face to face, don’t say it in the social space
  • Not every post is about you
  • You’re not as anonymous as you think
  • Your online actions could make or break you
  • 8 things to consider before you post
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