• Beltsville News

Your digital footprint during the holidays! By Dr. Kandis Boyd

Updated: Jan 30


Every time a person posts to a social media site, their information is stored, traced, and analyzed. For example, I remember sending an email to a friend about apples and suddenly pop up ads started showing up on my computer and in the margins offering discounts on Apple computer products. In this case I was referring to a different type of apple, but the computer assumed I was referring to laptops. This is an example of how your digital footprint can be used by others. Some people aren’t aware that artificial intelligence and machine learning have advanced to this level. To some, this customizable online experience is refreshing and to others it’s a clear invasion of privacy. No matter your stance on this issue, it’s important to understand what your digital footprint is and how it affects you both personally and professionally.

Everyone has a digital footprint. It's a public record of what websites you've visited and what statements you have made via social media. For some, a digital footprint is needed to build a brand or to gain recognition. For example, athletes, artists, and entertainers with a high number of followers are sought after to market products. These ‘social influencers’ have used their digital footprint to build a brand, shape people’s thoughts, and craft posts and statements that incite discussion. A digital footprint can form a pattern of thought and highlight a person’s beliefs, motivations, and support for a cause.

There’s no way to eradicate your digital footprint, but you do have the power to monitor and address inaccuracies. Here are a few tips on how to make your digital footprint as positive as possible.

  1. Conduct a search on your professional name, personal name, and nicknames. Use various search engines to understand the full depth of your digital footprint.

  2. If there is inaccurate information or unfavorable statements, contact the website owner and request that they adjust or remove the content.

  3. Set up a Google Alert to send you information anytime your name is used in online content.

  4. Limit who can see you by sending information and online posts to pre-screened contacts and friends.

  5. Clear cookies with your information. Cookies are small data files that can capture personal information about you. Anything that you post online has the potential to be copied and redistributed so think carefully before you post or sign into a website.

  6. Delete profiles you don’t use. Unsubscribe to newsletters and blogs you don’t read. Most social media and online websites provide the option for you to opt out at any time.

  7. Use login and passwords that are unique to every website and social media platform. Login and passwords are strong when they contain a mixture of symbols, numbers, and letters and are at least 10 characters long. Login and passwords should not be easily identifiable - for example avoid using your name, birthday, family/relative’s names, or other easily obtainable information.

  8. Avoid using public computers or public Wi-Fi carriers.

  9. Log out of websites/social media platforms once you’ve finished using them.

10. Ensure cell phones have unique passwords and facial recognition. Cell phone apps allow you to ‘find your phone’ and to ‘delete data’ if the device is lost.

Remember that your digital footprint should be a positive and accurate reflection of you. Use your digital footprint to your advantage to help others get to know you as well as to promote and highlight your thoughts and interests. A positive digital footprint can have long lasting effects, so choose your words carefully.

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