12 September 2009

Your Digital Footprint

Note: This post was originally written and posted at another of my blogs, but I thought it would be worthwhile to post here since so much of what we do as educators is to help our students understand the consequences of their actions.

I've changed the comment settings on this blog. From now on you will not be able to leave anonymous comments and will be required to fill in one of those annoying random-word verifications before submitting your comment. Should it become necessary, I will also set comments to be moderated so that inappropriate comments are not posted for public view.

The change was prompted by an anonymous user posting the text of the email that all Journ II, Journ I and Yearbook students received on Friday night. In short, the text was rude and disrespectful to all of us AND the journalism programs at our school.

This brings me to the point of this post: create a positive digital footprint.

Let's break this down.

First, once something is posted on the internet it never completely goes away. Even if your blog post, MySpace photo or tumblr is removed it's still out there somewhere. Recent polls of employers show that 45% (up from 22% in 2008) are now asking for social networking account information to check you out online. If your digital footprint is not in line with the company's goals and values, you won't be hired. Worse yet, if an employer gets wind of something inappropriate online, you can be fired. Free speech can only get you so far. It doesn't give you the right to be rude or inappropriate without possible consequences.

Second, in 2008 the WCCUSD School Board adopted a policy that holds students accountable for what they say and do online. Practically speaking, that means that if you are threatening or harassing someone there can be consequences (i.e. suspension, expulsion, notification of the police, etc). The policy clearly covers student activity outside of school.

Back in the day, if you wanted to harm someone's reputation you started a rumor that passed from mouth to mouth. A rumor took awhile to get around and often fizzled out before it did any real damage. Today you send a bulk text message or email or write a blog post and within minutes hundreds of people have access to what you're saying. Harm is done within seconds and you can't unring the bell. Deliberate harm to someone's reputation is NOT protected speech. Ever. So, in the moment of anger or disappointment that you feel, you can do harm to someone else AND yourself.

I'm sure some of you are thinking something along the lines of "so I can only write about rainbows and ponies? I can't write about the stuff that bugs me?" Of course you can write about stuff that bugs you. However, you want to do it out in the open using your name, not a handle you hide behind. You also want to provide reasoned arguments about why you are not happy and never stoop to petty attacks against individuals. Your reputation AND theirs will be harmed.

Use this checklist to make sure that your posts move conversation forward, rather than harm others and yourself:

  1. Do my comments harm someone's reputation? In other words, am I unfairly disparaging a person's work or taking potshots at their person? Or, do my comments discuss my dissatisfaction with a policy and offer solutions to the problem?
  2. Am I using curse words? If so, do they indicate that I am not thinking rationally about the topic? Better yet are these words appropriate or do they diminish my argument because they are just there for effect?
  3. Do my words make me look bad? Could these words be used against me later? Or, do my words clearly show that I am not happy BUT explain why and propose ways to make things better?
  4. Will my words and actions (sending an email, writing a blog post, etc.) create a hostile working environment? Or, while my words might make some people uncomfortable, do they open up the possibility of discussion?