10 Ways to Take Clean Up Your Digital Footprint
Written by Robyn Shulman, May, 2016.
“If you aren’t controlling your footprint, others are.”-Meredith Stuart, History Teacher & Department Chair, Duke Law & Divinity School Grad.
Your Digital Footprint Matters
The millennial generation grew up online, as they are known as “digital natives,” who live in a comfort zone in the virtual world. However, if you are living in this comfort zone and are looking for employment, it is time for a reality check, a digital clean-up and an online plan for the future that includes checking your digital footprint. This holds especially true for teachers, who are held up to higher moral obligations and different requirements, as well as societal expectations and limitations on free speech. Our future generation is depending on you, as you are a role model for society today. It is your responsibility to uphold a positive and professional online presence. Potential employers, students, families, the community and the world have access to who you are as a digital person, and that has a lasting impact.
Why should you check your digital footprint? You may have forgotten the unflattering picture you posted on Facebook a few years ago at a party, an inappropriate Twitter comment, or a negative comment made on a blog. However, the Internet has not forgotten anything about you or the trails of comments you have left in the past. Therefore, it is time to clean up your digital footprint, present yourself in a professional way and be sure to take control of how others perceive you online.
Your Digital Footprint: What You Need to Know About The First Amendment
Public school teachers are in a very special position because the state considers them individuals and employees of the state. Therefore, school districts have a vested interest in making sure that the messages that students receive are parallel with the district’s goals and vision.
According to the National Education Association, (Clements, 2014) about 75% of employers do an online search about a potential candidate. As a new teacher, you may believe that the First Amendment protects you from the right to post or say anything online within your private social networks. Although the First Amendment does protect free speech, there are still limits that teachers need to follow, and this puts you in a special position.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees United States citizens many freedoms.
However, unknown to many, teacher free speech rights are quite limited and obscure. The only time a teacher’s free speech is protected is if they speak out as citizens on matters of public concern. A teacher’s free speech cannot cause disruption in a school and cannot outweigh the school district’s interest in efficiency.
Unfortunately, many new teachers are not aware of their limitation on free speech and have lost potential job opportunities, or have been let go after their first year in the classroom. In the mainstream media today, you will hear countless stories of tenured teachers losing their jobs due to negative online activity.
For example, according to an article brought forth in March 2013, by CBS News, Carly McKinney, a 23 year-old math teacher in Colorado displayed inappropriate images of herself on Twitter and spoke about drinking alcohol. Ms. McKinney worked for Colorado’s Cherry Creek School District. The school district placed Ms. McKinney on leave, put her under investigation and she was finally dismissed from her job due to unprofessional online activities.
According to civil litigation attorney Anahita Sedaghatfar, Colorado Cherry Creek School District was well within their rights to terminate Ms. McKinney’s employment. She states: “Teachers do have a First Amendment right, but the courts have held that teachers’ social media posts, if they cause a substantial disruption to the teaching environment, outweigh the First Amendment.”
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Ms. Sedaghatfar also stated, “The bottom line is that teachers are, like it or not, role models and they should be held to a higher standard. If a teacher doesn’t have enough common sense not to put out tweets on a public Twitter page like this, then they should not be charged with teaching our students.”
Take Control of Your Digital Footprint Now
Make a List: Create a list of all the social networks sites, websites and blogs you have signed up for in the past, and include sites in which you have not been active. Brainstorm all the names you have used in the past (married, maiden, nicknames, aliases and your full name that may contain different spellings). Be sure to include them in your search.
Search: Before you can start reducing and cleaning up your digital footprint, you need to know what is currently out there for public view. Start your research with a Google, Bing and Yahoo search using all the names written on your list. You can also do a search using your email account name (as this tends to trail on my many blogs). Ask your friends to run a search on your name as well, as they may notice something you don’t find. Run your name on sites like spokeo.com, intelius.com and whitepages.com. If you find someone has the same name as you, if possible, make an effort to add your middle initial to your social profiles for distinction. Make sure all of your personal information is accurate. If it is not, reach out to the website(s) and ask for corrections.
Clean Up your Digital Footprint: Now that you have found your digital footprint, go back to all questionable concerns and start to remove any material that may seem offensive. Remove any inappropriate photos, content or offensive comments. Manage all the interactions you have had with others online. If the conversations or comments are inappropriate, be sure to remove all of the content. Remember, it only takes one wrong statement to jeopardize your career. Be cautious and choose your words clearly. If you cannot remove past comments, try to reach out to the owner of the website or blog and request the removal of your comments. Each time you delete something, clear your cookies and cache on your browser to make sure everything is truly gone.
Check Social Media Passwords and Privacy Settings: Make sure all of your social media passwords are strong and all visible settings are set to private mode. Check your social media accounts from a friend or library’s computer to see things objectively without signing in. Ask your friends to check if they tagged you in any of their photos or comments and request removal. It is very easy for others to have control over your online presence, without your own awareness, and those images and content can end up in front of the wrong eyes. Also, do a search and delete any old social media accounts you do not use anymore.
Create Google Alerts: Google Alerts are a great way to keep track of your personal presence in real-time, and it is easy to set up.
- Go to Google.com/alerts
- Put in the keywords you would like to track (i.e., your name, teacher, university, current employer, social media accounts, etc.)
- Choose the type of content you would like to receive, how often and how you would like to receive the information
- Manage your alerts by signing up for delivery through your email or even an RSS feed
Take Control of your Digital Footprint and New Online Presence
Present yourself in a positive manner by setting up a knowledgeable image of yourself in the education world. Create a profile with simple, nonspecific details about yourself, your professional goals and highlight all of your successful work. You can create a safe, professional place like this with an education blog, an about.me page or a LinkedIn profile. Showcase your work online using your college portfolio. If you do choose to take part in conversations, showcase your educational background in an accurate, friendly and knowledgeable way. Keep it simple and professional. Always remember to question and think about anything you choose to post.
Continuously Manage your Presence: Remember, it is not only potential employers who are viewing you. Today, our tech savvy world has left a place for open discussions, comments and reviews about anything or anyone. Students and parents are online rating and reading reviews of teachers daily. Stay on top of things to protect yourself online, be active, and always present yourself in the best possible light.
By following these tips, a great beginning awaits you toward your new classroom journey. Managing a personal and digital life is challenging, however, it is the reality we all face today. Done right, you can have an amazing online presence that can build and bring new opportunities for you and your students. You can also find tools online by searching for terms such as “check my digital footprint” or “erase digital footprint.”
How do you take care of your digital footprint? Please share your ideas, tips and stories.
Anderson, Steven. (2011). Take Care of Your Digital Self. ASCD Edge: A Professional Networking Community for Educators. Retrieved from: http://edge.ascd.org/blogpost/take-care-of-your-digital-self
Fox News Insider. (2013). High School Math Teacher Under Investigation for Posting Racy Pictures to Twitter. Retrieved from: http://insider.foxnews.com/2013/02/01/debate-was-high-school-math-teacher-carly-mckinney-just-exercising-first-amendment-rights-when-posting-racy-pictures-to-twitter
Leibowitz, Barry. (2013). Carly McKinney: Racy Twitter pix get Colorado teacher nixed. Retrieved from: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/carly-mckinney-racy-twitter-pix-get-colo-teacher-nixed/
Your digital footprint can make or break your career; make smart choices now and every day.