Digital Footprint: Teaching children about the permanence of social media

permanence of social media
When it comes to social media, there’s a fine line between teaching your children how to protect their privacy and scaring them. Chances are that many online interactions they have will be pleasant, fun and enjoyable. However, it’s important to make them aware that public opinion can flip at the drop of a hat. Making a racist, homophobic or politically incorrect comment (whether it’s inadvertent or on purpose!) can cause a well-known person to be “cancelled” in the blink of an eye or come back to haunt someone who finds themselves in the public eye years later.

Sharing is Relinquishing Control

The reason this can happen is because, once you post something online, it’s out in the world for anyone to do with as they please. We live in a politically correct society and it’s never a good idea to post an opinion without seriously weighing up the potential consequences of your actions. Yes, you can delete something from your Twitter or Instagram feed if you regret your words after posting them but there’s no way of knowing whether someone else has “screenshot” it already. Unfortunately, if you have any sort of a profile, it’s safe to assume that somebody has.

Your Data tells a Story

The simple truth is that our digital identity is made up of the data we share online and the more of it there is, the better equipped people are to make assumptions about who we are. Today’s children are the first to grow up in a world where there has always been social media and they are sharing more than the adults who have gone before them. From Snaps to TikTok videos to Instastories, everyone can be the star of their own reality TV show with a decent tripod and a ring light! But do your children know what’s happening to the data they are uploading daily? Even if they delete it from their feeds, each post still lives on the servers of the social media company so that it can be analysed and used for a variety of purposes. It’s the same with emails. Just because you decide to do a massive cull of your overflowing inbox doesn’t mean that those emails are gone forever. They might be gone from your grasp (which is why if you want to keep something, you should always back it up!), but they exist on the servers of Gmail or Yahoo, etc. and while it might be difficult to retrieve them for malicious intent, it’s by no means impossible.

So, what’s the solution?

The solution is very straightforward. Teach your children to behave as if everything they post online is public. It could be read by their grandparents, siblings, friends, teachers, etc. Make sure to enable all the privacy settings on their devices. As they grow older, get your kids into the habit of reviewing their online activity every couple of months and removing anything that might paint them in an unflattering light. Perhaps nobody cares about what they post today, but they might in the future!

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