Social Media Sharing: A Community Guide

Steward technology experts weigh in on the best ways to approach, monitor children’s social media usage.

What should students be learning about their digital footprint and how it might affect their opportunities for school admissions, scholarships, jobs, political office, etc.?

Mrs. Ricketts: Students need to know that their digital footprint is and always will be searchable. The silly things they post this year will always be there for all to see. It is like an open scrapbook. Look at the news on just about any day and you will read about someone who missed an opportunity because of their reckless use of their social media account. Conversely, it is possible to create a sort of digital resume through your social media accounts, sharing your accomplishments, volunteer work, and affiliations.

Mr. Brannon: Students, especially as they approach the season of life for applications, need to understand exactly what about their lives is being recorded, stored, and analyzed. Virtually every stakeholder in their digital lives monitors their activity: search engines, web browsers, web sites, apps, internet service providers, internet access points at work and around town, cell phone companies, and individual devices. Knowing the extent to which our lives are being monitored shatters the illusion of privacy and control. There is no true anonymity online. Students also need to know that information shared online is virtually permanent. Deleted content may be stored on company servers long after they are deleted from one’s profile. Deleted content may still be discoverable online Students, therefore, need to do the following before making new accounts, installing new apps, or purchasing a new device:

  • Read the terms of service and privacy and data retention policies.
  • Research the company’s business practices and history: Have they been investigated for unethical or illegal behavior? Have lawsuits been filed against them? Have users filed complaints against them?

One reason for knowing this information is that the world is smaller in the digital age. College and job applications might be screened by friends of friends, who may be able to discover social media posts that are considered private. Word of mouth about private posts sometimes can play a role in colleges’ and employers’ decisions (click here to read an article about Harvard University rescinding acceptances for students who posted obscene memes). Likewise, certain social media companies also are known for changing policies abruptly, which can expose users to temporary breaches in privacy.

Students also should monitor exactly who provides their current access to the internet at any given moment. Are they on a school Wi-Fi network? Cellular data? Their parent’s home network? If students do not personally know the individuals who are responsible for that network, then they should moderate their online behavior and avoid sharing any personal or sensitive information. Parents also should help their students monitor their device settings.

As our students prepare to begin their lives as adults, they also need to know how to use their digital footprints to their advantage. All students should perform periodic vanity searches for their name on Google (both web and image search), Instagram, and Twitter. (I did this recently and was surprised to see some recent hits about myself.) Students should review all of their accounts and delete any accounts they no longer use and delete any posts that do not promote a positive image. Understanding how to maintain their digital footprints can enable our students to promote achievements, establish a personal brand, and create a network of professional contacts.

Click on each question below to view responses from our technology experts:





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