Online identity and our digital footprint

The blogosphere and discussion lists have been running hot in recent weeks as people have begun grappling with the implications of Facebook’s sweeping new privacy policies and their controversial new default and permanent settings. The concerns appear to have had some effect, with a recent statement from Facebook’s Public Policy Director that the company will release simple privacy settings in the coming weeks.

The argument is between those (like Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg) who assert that the world has changed, that it’s become more public and less private – and others who believe that privacy is still important. It’s a debate that will no doubt continue for some time yet, but certainly has enormous implications for schools, where student privacy is an everyday concern for a whole variety of reasons.

When it comes to online privacy concerns there are a number of things schools can do from a technology perspective (such as filtering, blocking, monitoring etc.), however, the best approach is to do what they do best and EDUCATE students about the issues involved, and MODEL and TEACH appropriate ways of dealing with this.

This sounds straight forward, but isn’t as easy as it sounds, as it would appear from the evidence in a recent PEW internet report that the worst offenders in terms of managing their online identity are those in the age group that are teaching our young people – not the students themselves. The PEW report is based on the findings of a daily tracking survey on Americans’ use of the Internet, with data from telephone interviews conducted among a sample of 2,253 adults, 18 and older.

Those ages 18-29 are more likely than older adults to say:

  • They take steps to limit the amount of personal information available about them online — 44% of young adult internet users say this, compared with 33% of internet users between ages 30-49, 25% of those ages 50-64 and 20% of those age 65 and older.
  • They change privacy settings — 71% of social networking users ages 18-29 have changed the privacy settings on their profile to limit what they share with others online. By comparison, just 55% of SNS users ages 50-64 have changed the default settings.
  • They delete unwanted comments — 47% social networking users ages 18-29 have deleted comments that others have made on their profile, compared with just 29% of those ages 30-49 and 26% of those ages 50-64.
  • They remove their name from photos — 41% of social networking users ages 18-29 say they have removed their name from photos that were tagged to identify them, compared with just 24% of SNS users ages 30-49 and only 18% of those ages 50-64.

Seems we’ve got our work cut out for us if we’re to truly embrace the concept of cyber-citizenship in our schools, as  key competency/disposition for our students when they leave our schools. The PEW report is a useful reminder that it becomes difficult to teach what we don’t know, and that in the case of online privacy, the things we teach should be congruent with the behaviours we practice and model. I think there’s a strong case for a concerted professional development approach here, with support at a strategic and policy level. Problem here is that our policy makers are in that same age category.

The full PEW Internet report is available here (PDF download)

One thought on “Online identity and our digital footprint

  1. This is interesting. Would have thought it was the other way round. Thanks for this, as I am about to hold a community meeting on establishing class blogs etc, and this data will prove useful. Thanks, Derek.

Leave a Reply