Are You Aware of Your Digital Footprint?

Are You Aware of Your Digital Footprint?

Here’s a scary fact: every single day, even when you’re not directly interacting with someone, you contribute to the ever-evolving public presentation of yourself.

Remember when you posted that semi-drunk photo from a wild night out, just because your face looked hilarious and simply had to be shared with the world?

It speaks on your behalf, and to various types of audiences.

Like it or not, everything you post, say, comment, or like online is one part of the complex puzzle called online identity.

How about the time you shared your location after visiting and reviewing that fancy restaurant? Yep, that too.

And the comments you leave across social media, particularly regarding political stands or some sensitive, controversial, and discussion-fueling topics? Oh boy, a thousand times yes.

Like it or not, everything you post, say, comment, or like online is one part of the complex puzzle called online identity. It all adds up to your digital footprint – the data you leave behind while using digital services and engaging in different online activities. Not only that, put content that other people post about you also counts.

However, we typically don’t give much thought to our online reputation and the digital traces we leave in the cyberspace. We treat our social media profiles like open diaries, without stopping to think about the aftereffect.

online footprint

The Problem of Digital Oversharing

In the era of live streaming and real-time sharing, there have been numerous research that tried to pinpoint why do we share our personal information so easily, and compromise our privacy across different channels completely voluntarily.

According to a joined study by New York Times and Latitude Research, the motivation for sharing things online varies from case to case:

  • By posting content online, users get the feeling they can process the information they’ve shared more thoroughly (73%) and understand their own thoughts and ideas better thanks to the feedback of others (85%)
  • Users like posting content as they think it might be of value to others (94%)
  • Shared content acts as a medium for communicating who we are, as well as the values and causes we care about (84%)
  • Sharing helps people connect with others and make new relationships, which ultimately results in feeling more involved in the world (69%)

But, what happens when we overshare? Why do we do it? Why can’t we eat anything without posting it on Instagram?

Psychology Today explained how oversharing comes as a direct consequence of something called online disinhibition effect. It’s not that we are not capable of keeping our thoughts to ourselves, it’s just that we don’t want to.

Anonymity and invisibility mark all internet interactions, and these two elements enable us to create any type of online identity, without the pressure that usually follows live social interactions. Behind screens, we feel protected and safe, like nothing can hurt us, which gives us the courage to say things, take stands, or act more freely.

This creates an illusion that nothing we say can affect our real lives.

Delayed communication is another thing that contributes to our perception of an online world being something completely separate from the real, offline world. Sure, we can immediately respond to comments and messages, but we can also ignore them or address them later on. In addition, the internet community implies a feeling of equality for all users, meaning there is a lack of authority in the cyberspace.

This is why people usually don’t have a problem of directly reaching out to people on high positions or commenting posts of reputable and famous experts, whereas the situation is completely different in the offline world. More importantly, this is the reason why we feel it’s ok to post beach pictures and content based on edgy humor, even though we have our boss and colleagues on our Facebook friends list.

Likes we get fuel our self-esteem: they act as a validation and make us feel like we belong.

We post online in order to feel less lonely and more engaged with others, to vent out and maybe escape our every day, or to create a certain image for ourselves. Likes we get fuel our self-esteem: they act as a validation and make us feel like we belong.

However, the lack of awareness of how online and offline identity overlap (i.e. how they are not mutually exclusive – on the contrary) can create a disruption between who we truly are and who we want to be.

Digital Oversharing

Safety in Focus

Not only does oversharing heavily affect your reputation, but it can also be dangerous – especially for children and adolescents.

The Unicef has published a research titled Perils and Possibilities: Growing Up Online, which shows how the expansion of digital technologies affect the lives and general safety of younger generations. Recklessly sharing private information makes children and teens vulnerable to both cyberbullying and more serious criminal attacks.

Within their #growinguponline campaign, Unicef has recently posted a video currently counting over 3.7 million views that focus on children’s digital footprint, i.e. on the amount of data they share, without being aware of it. The video depicts the uncomfort children experience during the “press conference” in which they are being asked specific questions about their hobbies, plans, and previous activities. They feel uneasy as they are uncertain how complete strangers have that private information about them.

The truth is, children, overshared online, without giving much thought about this information being publicly available to many.

But it’s not only younger generations that share a bit more than they should. For instance, adults that have a habit of checking into places via Foursquare or other apps may risk getting stalked or attacked. Just by discovering their whereabouts, they become easy targets for various criminals, hate groups and groups of extremists, even terrorists.

safety digital footprint

Your Personal Data Has Value

Personal data is often referred to as the internet currency.

The issue of sharing and misusing user data, as well as monetizing it without users knowing about it, has been particularly in focus since the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) came into effect on the 25th of May, 2018.

Shortly put, the GDPR gives back users the rightful control of their personal data as businesses now have to explicitly ask for consent to collect data. The new law affects businesses all over the world that handle data of EU citizens, which implies it has set a new, improved global standard for data privacy.

So, no more selling data to third parties without users agreeing with it? Yep.

In addition, users have the right to access all their data records, to ask to be forgotten (i.e. request that companies to delete all their data records), or to demand their data gets transferred to another organization or company. The regulation also extended the list of elements that are now considered to be personal data.

But, what does this mean for your digital footprint?

Your personal data, both parts of it that are easily visible and those that are hidden, are a major part of your digital footprint. It’s crucial to understand two things:

  • What you post is not the only digital trace you leave
  • What you do post typically ends up being viewed by far more people than you probably assume or intend

The most responsible thing to do here is to actually read privacy policies before clicking “accept”. It might seem time-consuming and boring, but reading through this will prevent you from sharing information you don’t feel comfortable sharing. This can be your location, contact list, or browsing history.

Be wary of your social media profile settings and apps that collect data they plan on using for advertising purposes. Usually, data is collected in order to deliver personalized and relevant ads in front of segmented groups. However, you should always think twice before giving consent. Information is power and every power can be misused, so don’t make your private info so easily accessible.

personal data

Digital Footprint Can Either Hurt or Help Your Career

The moment you realize what you do in the online world can indeed impact you is the moment when you can take advantage of the hyperconnectivity and ensure everything you post online aligns with your career goals.

Don’t let the gap between who you are online and who you are offline too big. To gain more control over your digital footprint, follow our simple three-step ABC process:

  1. Acknowledge your digital footprint: review all information that can be found about you online and ensure to take in mind both the content you’ve posted and the content that others posted about you (this includes everything, including the YouTube videos where you appear)
  2. Become better with assessing what content is safe to share: before posting, try to define what you want to achieve and whether or not the content is appropriate with your professional role; think about who has access to the content you post and adjust privacy settings
  3. Control your digital footprint: some parts of your online image are easier to control (e.g. content you post), others not so much (e.g. what others post about you); remove everything inappropriate that’s in your power and pay attention to privacy policies of devices and digital services you use – they get updated, which is why you need to monitor potential changes and the way they affect your digital footprint

Today, we are all “Googleable” and employers are well aware of the fact. Job seekers need to know that social media screenings are gaining popularity: 70% of hiring officers now check online profiles to filter out candidates.

Setting privacy settings the right way can prevent leaving a bad impression, as well as being more mindful of what you post. For example, candidates that post provocative photographs or information, bad-mouth the previous company they worked for, or post too frequently, get negative points and risk not being called to an interview.

Today, we are all “Googleable” and employers are well aware of the fact.

People will look you up online and they will form an impression about you based on what they find. It’s your responsibility to ensure nothing compromising, embarrassing, or inappropriate comes up. As times goes by, your digital footprint will become larger, which is why it is of paramount importance to continuously monitor it.

But, it’s not only about damage control. To really make the most of your online presence, you need to make a positive digital footprint, and there is no better way to do so than by creating your own website. According to Workfolio, 56% of all recruiters are more impressed by candidate’s personal website than any other personal branding tool. Yet, only 7% of applicants have their personal websites.

Wow, only 7%! Is there any other piece of statistics that can depict more clearly how managing your website can give you a competitive advantage over other job seekers?

Authenticity, credibility, and value are three key things you need to communicate through your personal brand, while your website represents the cornerstone of your reputation. Whether you’re determined to launch a freelancing career or create an online presence that will help to hire managers clearly see your value, a customized website is your reliable business ID in the cyberspace.

Are you ready to get started? With free website builders, you can make your own site in no time, no coding expertise needed! As for the domain name, it’s pretty logical: choose .ME as the most personal domain name across the web! Check if your desired name is available here!


Goran Bogunovic

Now, you're probably wondering how I got here! Running a marketing agency, educating people about branding, and helping you to develop your own presence online. To understand, you’ll need to follow me @Domain.Me

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