In this day and age, a great deal of people have an online presence. When asked, I’m sure it would be a common mistake of many to assume that “online presence” automatically means possessing an account on social media. While that is one way of displaying online presence, it is not by any stretch of the imagination the only way. Anything a person has ever signed up for, posted to, and shared makes up an online presence. In addition, anything shared about a person constitutes their online presence as well. As an English major, I’m embarrassed that “online presence” has been written six times in this single paragraph, but it is intentional. It is crucial for people to be aware of their online presence (number seven, anyone?) because it is like marks on permanent records; once an individual tosses out information into the great abyss of the world wide web, it is nearly impossible to completely remove it.
Another way to describe a person’s online presence is through the phrase “digital citizenship”. To me, creating a healthy digital citizenship is all about interacting in a positive manner. Generally, people are online to acquire information. The information they acquire comes from other people. By respecting the people who are posting the information, even if you do not necessarily agree with it, you are a promoting a safe exchange of ideas which is crucial to the success of the internet. In addition, you are promoting your own reputation as a promoter of the safe exchange of ideas, which is great for your digital citizenship. Unfortunately, it is easy to slip into hurtful online ways. The internet might provide for the sharing of information beyond nearly any barrier, but in doing so it has created a barrier in and of itself. If people wish to, they can hide behind the internet. When there is no fear of a face-to-face confrontation, internet users have a tendency to feel “bigger” than they actually are. This often manifests in negative language and/or behavior, which in turn can become cyberbullying. This is definitely NOT a way to create healthy digital citizenship, and it is important for everyone to know that.
As a future educator, I believe that a large portion of the responsibility to educate students about healthy digital citizenship falls upon the school system. As I mentioned in the first sentence, a great deal of people have an online presence. However, this does not mean all people have an online presence. In the United States and around the world there are plenty of people that live completely off the grid. As a result, teachers cannot take for granted that parents have the ability or means to teach their child how to successfully create a positive digital footprint. This school year, Digital Learning Day falls on February 23rd. Started in 2012, Digital Learning Day provides a great opportunity for educators to teach students digital literacy and digital citizenship and how they can best use both to help them soar in the classroom. This article provides a great example of how a classroom used Digital Literacy Day to positively show students how much the internet affects their lives. We need to get to the point where we aren’t just teaching students how to be digital citizens, but also digital leaders (see illustration below).
Personally, I strive everyday to make my online presence as positive as it can be. I was taught from an early age the importance of how a person presents themselves on the internet, and it has stuck with me. Have I always been perfect? No, because I am human. However, most of what I post and share and sign-up for on the internet directly reflects my personal beliefs. One day in the near future potential employers will be scouring my Google results and social media sites trying to decide if I will be a good candidate to teach the students at their school, and I want them to see nothing but positivity on every page they find. Today I challenge you all to want the same. It isn’t necessarily easy, but let’s try to clean up our little corners of the internet by only showing kindness and respect to others. Your digital citizenship will thank you, and so will the countless people who have fallen prey to those who do not demonstrate a good online presence. That right there should make it all worth it.