Journal 2: Digital Footprints

Before my partner and I  started building websites in my junior English class, we spent a week discussing digital citizenship and the need to cultivate a positive digital footprint. We watched relevant videos and TED talks, including one specifically made for the students of Henry Sibley High School in conjunction with the University of Minnesota. This video seems to actually penetrate and hit home with the majority of students. Because we started with such a strong emphasis on creating a positive digital footprint, they were excited to start their websites.

A year or two ago, an unfortunate situation for one of our former students provides a real-life example of how important cleaning up your footprint can be. A former student, whose name will be withheld in this post to help protect her footprint, was competing in beauty pageants to earn scholarships for college. When she was crowned Miss Teen USA, someone dug through her social media posts and went back more than 5 years to find some ridiculous things she said online in old Twitter and Myspace posts. In one particular post that was highlighted and circulated once discovered, she used the N-word.  She was 14 years old at the time, and it seemed like music culture was practically giving permission for the word to reenter lexicon. The post was made during the time when society was toying with the idea that this word, when spelled with an ‘a’ instead of ‘er’ might be ok since it meant ‘friend’ in hip-hop culture. 5 years later, this bit of context was forgotten as an opponent pointed out that the new Miss Teen USA might be racist.

As it turns out, this young lady was not racist.  When she was a freshman, she had no idea who she was and was clearly following the crowd. This child, like many, went through an amazing transformation during high school and ended up a responsible, conscientious, intelligent young lady who would never use the n-word, no matter how it was spelled. As a high school teacher, I see how these kids grow and change throughout those 4 years.  Many of them are completely different people by the time they graduate. To hold this young lady accountable for something she did as a 14-year-old seemed ridiculous to me, but that is how our society and justice system- works. This story was a national news story, with this girl’s name and face being broadcast on the national and local news. The Miss Teen USA organization stood behind the young lady and supported her, but several of her scholarships and sponsorships chose to withdraw, claiming they couldn’t support her anymore.

This hometown example helps us sell the importance of the digital tattoo. As we build positive digital footprints, we will also begin encouraging students to clean up their personal social media profiles. Students are excited about being given the opportunity to gain some control in this situation and begin building their own personally-designed digital footprints.


For further reading on digital footprints, check out these resources:

Lenhart, A. (2015). Teen, social media and technology overview 2015. The Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

Madden, M., & Raine, L. (2015). Americans’ attitudes about privacy, security and survellance. Retrieved from

Ohler, J. (2011). Character education for the digital age. Educational Leadership, 68(5), 187-205. Retrieved from