Dirty Footprints

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WORDS | Lily Davis

This article all began with a quick Google search. It seems to be the first stop we go to when sourcing information and research these days. So why would it be any different when finding out about a person? Well it’s not. More and more employers hit the net to find out information about individuals. The scary fact is that there’s stuff to find. Simply type your basic information into Google, enter your name and birthday, and bob’s your uncle, there’s probably a hit on, at least, your Facebook profile.

Unbeknown to us all, our online activities are sneakily contributing to a new kind of permanent record. The kind that is far more easily accessible by a greater number of people. This has become known as your ‘digital footprint’, and thanks to social media, almost everybody has left a trace. Few of us, though, understand the extent of it: we all leave some form of trail behind that can have serious professional, and social repercussions.

The Big Picture

Nine million Australians check Facebook every day. These millions of people are constantly scouring the web for any activity from their friends, and acquaintances. A recent social media report reveals the average Australian has 258 friends or followers. That means, each place we check in, and every page we like, is being shared with hundreds of people.  We are broadcasting details on an unprecedented scale, and sometimes doing so, unknowingly.

There’s no doubt this technology has changed things. It’s now the norm to broadcast intimate personal details on various social media platforms. How many pictures have you seen of what somebody ate for lunch, or what they got up to last Saturday night? It’s as if our activities are validated by how many likes we get on Facebook. Our culture seems to be encouraging people to share more and more of their lives online.

Sometimes, participating in the online media sphere can provide us with a sense of (presumed) anonymity. Regular Joes turn into keyboard warriors; behaving in ways they may not ordinarily from behind the safety of their screen. However, anonymity really isn’t the case. Our actions can often be traced back, and contribute directly to our digital footprint.

Many people are under the false impression that social media remains purely ‘social’. In fact, it can be utilised for an array of different purposes. It’s common for employers to draw on online information to monitor their workers, or even consider potential candidates. If you don’t think it happens, then think again.  Ms Fiona Anson, Co-Founder and Director of Workible, a mobile and social recruitment platform, offered expert insight into the issue for me to think over.

Professional Repercussions

“With so many people having an online presence these days, like it or not, it is getting more common for companies to check online pages, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – and even conduct a simple Google search.  With people being the most important asset a business has, HR managers are looking to get insight into candidates. With more information than ever before being at our fingertips, how people conduct themselves online can have a massive impact – and unfortunately, not enough people understand this.”

Let’s pause and consider some of the real implications of conducting ourselves online.

Katie Camilleri, a media student at Macquarie University, was subject to this issue too. She spoke of the time she posted on a fellow worker’s Facebook page; “a few hours later my boss messaged me and said he had heard from staff that I was demeaning other staff members online”.

Scary, right?

Anson explained how it doesn’t have to be scary; “there are both positive and negative aspects to this.  From a negative perspective, using your social media accounts to publicise stupid, drunken, vindictive, illegal or just plain silly behaviour can be hugely detrimental to your work opportunities, however, you can use social media to positively enhance career opportunities as well”.In fact you can utilise your digital footprint to increase your professional potential. To do so Anson suggested building your online profile, keeping Facebook private and making a point of sharing your expertise online.

Social Repercussions

If we think about how much of our information is on offer to strangers, then what about to our actual friends and followers? Therefore our behaviour online has the potential to cause us serious harm socially. People can often be fickle and tend not to forget. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter inadvertently take many of the social problems that already persist, such as bullying and negative gossip, and bring them to a far broader stage. If you have a nasty online break-up, then your 258 ‘friends’ are going to know about it. Our personal life has never been so public. This can be highly problematic when what is broadcast turns sour.

The online sphere is a wide and unique platform. It’s created a culture of people accustomed to knowing all and sharing all. Social media has become such an ingrained part of the lives of so many young people that it’s rare to stop and think about any repercussions. We also don’t necessarily have adequate control over what is shared about us. Do you necessarily ask a friend for permission every time you post their photo online? Or is it more likely that you’re seized by a pang of horror as you’re tagged in a new photo the morning after a night out? With our social life being so well documented online it can sometimes be our social life that is worst affected.

So, basically, these days our mistakes can be Googled. They stick around as well, maybe even for future generations to see. It’s time for us to start considering the professional and social consequences of our actions that so often go unconsidered. Let’s start examining those dirty, digital footprints left behind and try to clean the slate for the future.

 

For more information regarding Workible visit www.workible.com.au