And then, I went to the digital footprint session run by the Digital Innocence Recovery Group. I've always thought I was careful about my digital footprint, but I learned quite a bit about being smarter online.
Like it or not, as professionals, we are held to a higher standard than other members of our friends list may be. Our students are their parents' most precious possessions, and we need to project a high degree of professionalism.
- If you don't like your job, you should probably find another one. At the very least, you shouldn't complain about it on Facebook.
- If you don't like the kids you work with, you really should find another job. However, you would be silly to complain about it on Facebook.
- Be careful of the pictures you post of yourself online. In fact, be careful of the pictures you allow to be taken of yourself if you think they may go online. We were shown two examples of teachers who were fired over pictures they posted of themselves. One was of teacher on her second job -- first mate on a boat -- wearing a bikini. The other teacher was holding two beers while on vacation in Europe.
- When in doubt, don't do it.
- At first, I thought these were no-brainers, but it dawned on me that I'm somewhat guilty here. I am an upper elementary teacher at heart -- 18 1/2 years in 4th-6th grade (the bulk of it in 6th). I also volunteered with a middle school youth group for 6 years. I am all about the tweens. Kindergarten is the biggest struggle of my new role of computer teacher. As a joke, I've posted about Kindergarten on Facebook. Nothing nasty. Nothing degrading. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I'm not a K guy. But... If a parent of one of those precious children read my comment, it could be taken the wrong way.
In Ohio, potential employers can ask for your Facebook account information. One bad photo (doing something stupid, not looking ugly) can keep you from getting that job or that promotion or that college scholarship.
We live in a dual reality world. The real world is one in which I can use all five of my senses. The digital world is primarily visual and auditory. Both are really happening, and both are important. However, there is a level of anonymity when we're online.
Let me give you an example from the conference. During a session, I wandered into a room that was packed. I looked across the way and saw a chair... next to one of my favorite presenters. I played it cool as I sat next to him and just did my thing. Set up the iPad, started taking notes, no big deal. At one point, we had to turn and talk about our passions outside of education. Mine is easy -- adoption. As it turns out, this guy (we'll call him Mark) is thinking about adoption and had a ton of questions for me. Time was up, and we never got to his passion. The session ended with us sharing little more than a grunt. Not long after that session was over, I tweeted him that I'd love to keep talking adoption if he was interested. Strangely enough, he never responded. Why didn't I talk to him directly while he was right next to me? Less risk while on Twitter.
This anonymity helps us feel freedom to do things like bullying, complain about our jobs, post pictures of ourselves that should make us blush, or rant about politics every four years. While each of these are a problem, it also opens a door to some scary people wandering into our lives.
- They showed us how easy it is (there's an app for that) to take a photo of a person and have it search social media to get all sorts of information about you and your family.
- In fact there is an app to show you information on all the girls around you and their information.
- They showed us about metadata, which is information attached to your digital photos. Apparently the photo itself is only a small portion of the file that is saved. Metadata includes the date, location, and device the photo came from. They showed us how easy it is take a regular photo of something in your house and within minutes find your home's location. Gulp!
How can we protect ourselves, our families, and our students?
- The number one easiest answer is to get offline. Now. (I'm not going to do that, but it's an option.)
- Be smart about what you post. If you don't want your grandmother to see it, don't post it.
- While it's possible to undo your negative footprint, it's more important to overwhelm the negative with a positive footprint from here on out. Think twice about your comments, pictures, and videos.
- Strip your pictures of metadata before you post them online or email them out. (That includes selling something on eBay or Craig's List.)
- Check settings on your social media frequently and shut down who can see things.
- Trim down your friends list. (How did I get 863 Facebook friends?!?!)
- Read the book Digital Danger by Dan Stanko and Tim Conrad, which is no published.
- Educate your students about this. If you live in Ohio, these guys will come to your school and talk with the kids. There is a lot of weight behind a grown man saying, "Hi, I'm Tracy. I'm 14." You come to realize that there is a lot about the digital world we just don't know.
I hope this helps you, your family, and your students. Stay safe out there.