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Youth Perspective: Your Digital Footprint Follows You

By Ana Hernandez / December 9, 2019
CHICAGO IDEAS YOUTH PERSPECTIVES IS A NEW CONTENT SERIES, PRESENTED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE SUSAN CROWN EXCHANGE, THAT AMPLIFIES THE VOICES OF OUR YOUTH AMBASSADORS AND GIVES THEM A PLATFORM TO SHARE THEIR IDEAS. 

There are probably photos of your parents’ favorite memories of you on Facebook, and these memories will forever be on the internet to keep them alive. Anyone can see these photos with a simple search of your name. Before you even talk, part of your reputation has been carved out for you by somebody else. This can have obvious consequences in your life. Whether it’s the Dean of Admissions at a college you want to go to or your future employer or just a new person you’ve started to make friends with, there is nothing from stopping them from seeing your entire digital footprint, some of which is your doing, and some of which is not. Your digital footprint can be both good and bad.

For example, imagine having a conversation online with someone and they screenshot and repost your conversation. In this situation, those who disagree with your words and thoughts will always associate you with this conversation. Now let’s say this conversation goes viral. What will colleges think about you or even your family and friends? What could this mean for those who fall into the same category as you?  This conversation could even enhance negative stereotypes of groups you associate with; it could drive new emotions of those who disagree with your words. This conversation could not only follow you for the rest of your life, but could affect your communities.  

It goes further, though. You are not the one deciding what photos of you are on the internet.  I personally am convinced my parents have over a thousand pictures of me on Facebook that range from being in the hospital, losing a tooth, graduating, or receiving an award. Although many of the photos are cute and those who post them have good intentions, many are very embarrassing and it is a bit worrying to think about who has access to these photos. Will my future employer be able to see when I was sitting in my pajamas with my dog? Will my friends see embarrassing photos that could so easily become the next viral meme. This is something one can not control. The ability to discover and use someone’s information like this makes me wonder about who has the right to post pictures of you onto the internet.  

Not everything about the internet is bad. Companies such as Walt Disney encourage those who are talented and creative to put their work online to better their chances of accomplishing their dreams. In various cases people have been scouted or become famous from internet sources such as YouTube, like Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen.  Another example is Wedley Estime, a football player, who wasn’t getting any attention prior to his highlight video that he posted onto the internet. His video caused scouts to look at him and take him seriously as a player In situations such as these their digital footprint helped launch their career.

My generation is the first that, from childhood, is growing up with the internet being vital to our lives from birth. The internet comes with both the good and the bad, and it is our responsibility to figure out the best way to use the internet, not only for my generation, but for generations to come. By gaining a better understanding of topics such as your digital footprint and learning from the effects it has on our lives (good, bad, and ugly) we are improving ourselves—and possibly the internet for those who come after us. That’s our reputation.