Many people are named Patricia Keefe so Goggling myself often makes me smile. Today the first result was a recent grave in Richmond, Kentucky. Thankfully, that is not me - yet.
Only five of us live in Indiana. I located myself and clicked. Sleuths can find my address, phone number, probable relatives, and a map marker. A Google Earth ariel view of my home may be zoomed out and in. For $2.95, I may access eighteen public records in my profile that include birth certificate, property information, college degree, teaching license, and others. Sometimes I am tempted to pay the fee to see if I might learn something I don't know about myself. Data systems do make mistakes.
My name will come up for various websites. I have a resume typed up on Linked In, which includes references and accomplishments of my career. I have a blog of professional writing that includes articles about education, but does not share with the Internet what my religious or political viewpoints might be. I have a "secure" account on Facebook that users are not supposed to be able to access unless I have accepted them as friends. I am not stupid enough to believe that it is really secure and even know how you may easily hack into it. I am careful about what I post to update my status and what pictures I share. I'm sure that my profile could be evaluated as "boring" and Facebook is continually asking me where I live, where I went to high school, and other information that I have not added. You can't even see my birthdate.
You could learn that my passions are pontooning on Patoka Lake and writing. There are pictures from writing retreats I have attended and a blog entry "Connect with your Inner Muse in North Carolina" that will appear. I often post about how super wonderful the day at the lake was AFTER I return home from the lake. The Extending Lilly Teacher Creativity Workshop picture from last July is my large profile picture. These things I am not afraid to share with whomever might want to learn more about me.
I do not gossip in chatrooms or on Facebook. I don't post that I'm going to be gone on the weekend, nor do I post anything negative about people or work. As a journalism minor, I am well aware of libel and slander laws and I am shocked by what I see posted by others. My philosophy is that the glass is always half full. There are new challenges out there; I just need to find them.
Maintaining a positive footprint is not difficult. Think about what you post and remember that even if you delete pictures or posts, the internet has a long memory and there are programs that can retrieve what was posted even if you think it is gone forever.
Discussions in class about the current events and things that happen regarding the internet can encourage students to think about what image they are projecting. If you would not say something face to face to another person, should you really post it online? Who is going to see the picture of your friends and you drinking at Saturday night's party? What kind of a message is it going to send to others about you? Maybe you don't like a political figure, is making fun of him/her online a good idea? Do you really want people to know you will be in Florida during spring break and no one will be at your house?
A former Assistant Principal included many of the students as Facebook friends and learned a great deal about what was happening at school and beyond from their posts. Students did actually upload pictures from shopping trips they took when they were home "sick". Sometimes they tried to bully others into fights at school, which gave him a forewarning of what might happen in the cafeteria during 6th period the next day. Discussion about what happened on field trips or in classes also provided useful feedback. Duh?
I have been filling out job recommendations for summer employment for students and have reminded them (again) that employers may Google their names and see what comes up online. Negative posts about others, posts that include inappropriate language every other word, and horrible spelling or grammar may cost a student an interview for a job they would have been great at doing. Online behavior often does not reflect classroom behavior or behavior that a student would be smart enough to use in a job setting. Pictures, political views, inappropriate religious statements, and slams against "hating this stupid town and all the people in it" will not win friends.
The best advice to give students is to think about what they are doing when creating their digital footprint and not posting things they will regret.