This You? - Your Digital Footprints Matter

If you have been on social media long enough, there’s a possibility that you may have seen this question - “This you?” or a similar phrase to bring people’s attention, including the original poster, to something that was posted earlier that could contradict or implicate the original poster. Twitter is just one of those interesting social media platforms where we see different “This you?” moments play out regularly (Oh! Twitter is a really volatile place, and you don’t want to be ‘this youed’ in bad light, or you will become the feast of the dragons that prowl the different streets of Twitter seeking whom they will devour.) and it’s always like there is someone somewhere actively archiving your posts and waiting for you to slip up so they can serve you with a “this you?” with a screenshot of your post from 1985, but the truth is that no one is really monitoring your tweets and saving screenshots; you left a trail, and the internet archived your data for you, for easy retrieval (uhm! We cannot totally rule out the possibility of a person or some persons actively taking screenshots of your posts for ‘future references’ though.). Oftentimes, the person is left wondering “Where did that surface from?” or “Did I really say that?”  or “When did I post that?” These things happen in so many ways, and that is because some people are not aware that they leave trails when they actively use the internet, especially when they use the different social media platforms; the trails can be referred to as “Digital Footprints.”

What is a digital footprint?

Remember how they say “The internet never forgets.”? It is a profound statement, because indeed, the internet never forgets. Picture the internet like a disk drive that caches your internet activities, and archives the data; or for want of a better illustration, the internet is like wet cement, with users of the internet leaving their footprints behind as they walk through that wet cement.

Basically, and without sounding like this is some deep tech post (oh well! It could be though. lol!) a digital footprint refers to data trails that you create whenever you use the internet, and these trails could be in the form of information that you make available online, the emails you exchange with your horrible bosses or colleagues, the websites you visit, the posts you make on different social media platforms, and basically any other activity you participate in online.

There are a plethora of ways that these digital trails can be used to track your online activities, and so it is important to pay attention to how you use the internet. Furthermore, the more you use the internet, the easier it becomes to follow your digital trails (Well, unless you are paranoid, and have all the firewalls, VPNs, masks, etc. set up - it doesn’t mean your activities cannot be tracked though, it’ll just be a little difficult, but easy peasy for a good hacker.)

In some cases, you may not have an idea that you’re adding to your digital footprints, especially if all you do is get online to just read stuff without contributing; however, your activities can still be tracked with the cookies that websites ask you to install, and not forgetting the apps that are good at harvesting your private data without your knowledge (I know you want to mention one social networking giant, but they are not the only ones that harvest private data though.) 

When we talk about digital footprints, it is important to note that there are two ways that digital footprints can happen; either actively, or passively.

  • Active

From the title, you may be able to deduce what it’s about (But hey! We can’t leave everything to assumption, yeah?) When we talk about active digital footprints, there’s a probability that you may want to attribute it’s meaning to being active on the internet, but it’s more than that; it’s a digital footprint that involves the user sharing personal information deliberately. Sharing such information may take the form of participating on or contributing to online forums and social networking platforms; so the posts you create on such platforms are an integral part of your active digital trail. There are other ways that your active digital footprints get created, including; the cookies that websites serve you that you accept, the numerous newsletter subscriptions, filling forms online, etc.

  • Passive

As you use some apps and websites, a lot of activity goes on in the background that you may not be aware about. A lot of these apps and websites have something like a tracker that keeps tabs on individual interaction with the platforms. For instance, they may detect the type of device used, the geolocation, the IP address, the telecommunications network used, type of posts you like, frequency of visits, the type of content you share, etc. Most times you have no idea that they have access to such information, and oftentimes, they use the data to bring you personalized adverts (Yeah! Now you understand why you'll chat with someone about a product on WhatsApp, and then boom! You're served an ad of the product when you open a website or app.) - in some cases, they harvest your private data and make money from selling it to other companies that need the data for different purposes (Yet, they never give you a cut from the proceeds they make off your private data.)

Digital Footprints Matter!

There are a million and one reasons why your digital footprints are really important, and it is imperative that you start paying attention to them (Or what you say, may be used against you in the court of social media platforms, and even though you have a right to an attorney, if you cannot afford one, none will be provided for you- relax! It’s just a remixed version of your Miranda rights.)

Here are some reasons why digital footprints matter:

  • Safety and Security

You have no idea who’s out there (or here, as the case may be.), and so there is the need to be wary of what information you put outside about yourself, in order to mitigate the risks of being stalked, robbed, raped, murdered, etc. Do you know that some pictures taken with mobile phones have geo-tags that may also include your geo-location? That’s right, and so it’s possible to track your possible location through the photos you post online. (Okay, I still want to see your beautiful pictures please, so just make sure you have minimal background detail, and perhaps turn off geo tags in your camera settings.)

Frequently posting content to show how affluent you may be, can make you a target to kidnappers and other bad actors.

  • Cybercrime

This is a very popular one, and barely needs any explanation. However, your digital footprints can be exploited by cybercriminals and used for different dark purposes like identity theft, credit card scams, frauds, etc.

  • Employer Checks

Some companies require that you add your social media handles while applying for a role, while some others are sneaky about it and won’t let you know that they carry out background checks about your activities on social media, and so you may want to think twice before making that social media post that has the undertone of “I am not my posts, and my posts are not me.” Those organizations are really not concerned about whether you have an alter ego or not. I have seen people come to post about how they were not offered jobs because the company dug up some questionable posts from their past, and I have also seen posts where people got fired because they posted something that may have been out of line.

The truth is that every company is trying to protect their image, and so they do not want to be associated with someone who could indirectly tarnish the image of the company, as a result of the type of content they post.

  • Reputation

Whether you want to accept it or not, your digital footprints can be used as a determinant of your reputation in the virtual world, and we have gotten to a point where importance is attached to your digital reputation, as with your reputation offline. (That’s just the way it is!)

  • Data Permanence

It does not matter whether you made the post on a semi-public space like your WhatsApp status, or on a public space like Twitter and other public forums, the moment you put any information out there, you cease to have complete control over how the information is used. Remember that you never really know the intentions of anyone, and so it’s easy for anyone to take screenshots or screen records of your post “for future purposes.”

Interestingly, some people are quick to delete posts almost as soon as they post and realise that the post may be inappropriate, especially for public consumption. However, no matter how fast you are, chances are that someone already saw the post and archived it.

  • Offences

This is a big one, because it comes in different forms. Your content could be misconstrued, and cause problems for you and other people. Again, I have seen this happen a thousand and one times on Twitter; you could just post a random opinion and boom! The dragons will rush out to make a feast of you, and oftentimes you’re left wondering “What did I say wrong?” - in other cases, posted content on social media platforms have sparked fights in the real world, and so it is imperative that you tread with caution when creating and posting content.

Friendships and relationships have been damaged as a result of content posted online. 

At this point, I guess you have a clearer idea about why you need to be mindful of your digital footprints. It is very important that you tread with caution, unless you do not care at all about your reputation; if that’s the case, then by all means, post whatever content you want, you’ll always have an audience.

Where digital footprints are formed

When you see this, the first and possibly the only place that comes to your mind is ‘Social Media’, but the truth is there are several other activities you perform on the internet that contribute to your digital footprints. In a nutshell, as long as you use the internet, your digital footprints are alive, and it doesn’t matter whether they are active or passive. Here are some ways that digital footprints get formed:

  • Social Media

  • Signing in or signing up to different platforms.

  • Using your social media IDs to sign in/sign up on some websites.

  • Sharing data, information, and multimedia with members of your online community.

  • Connecting with strangers and acquaintances on different platforms.

  • etc.

  • Internet Banking

  • Registering and using an online finance app.

  • Selling and buying of stocks, forex, and crypto.

  • Subscription to banking and finance newsletters and publications.

  • Online transfer of funds.

  • etc.

  • Online Shopping

  • Buying or selling items on online shops.

  • Connecting your debit/credit card to the online stores.

  • Using online store apps.

  • Creating online shopping accounts.

  • etc.

  • Media Apps

  • Signing up/Signing in to music and video apps.

  • Subscribing to different apps.

  • Connecting your debit/credit card to the apps for periodic subscriptions.

  • etc.

There are so many other ways that your digital footprints are formed, including subscription to different newsletters, the use of fitness trackers, etc.

How to mitigate “This you?” moments

Protecting your digital footprints should be a priority- your priority, because there’s a mixed multitude online, including assassins, robbers, kidnappers, serial killers, rapists, etc. that can look up information about you, based on your digital footprints. You need to learn to tread with caution when you perform any internet based operation. Here are some ways to manage your digital footprints:

  • Before you make that post, think about the possible implications for the present and the future.

  • Use a search engine to search your name and social media handles, in order to see what information about you is available online.

  • Ensure that you check your privacy settings and make the necessary adjustments that will give you more control over your content and who sees it.

  • As you keep sharing personal information online, your digital footprints continue widening. It is imperative that you ask yourself if the information is worth dropping before you submit it.

  • Use two factor authentication and other stronger forms of security to keep your online accounts safe.

  • Resist the urge to always put out personal information about you that may cause an infringement on your safety, security and privacy.

  • Unsafe websites are very risky, if you are not sure whether it’s safe or not, you could Google the site to see if people have made reports about it, or just avoid the websites. Do not put out your personal information on a website that isn’t secure.

  • Delete your old accounts.

  • Pay good attention to the very first tip.

If you are concerned about your reputation and name, then you should be selective about what information and content you share on your social media platforms and other online channels that require private data inputs.

I hope you picked a thing or two, and will become more deliberate about what you do with your online presence, but hey! You’re free to post whatever you like, and let people “This you?” you, people love entertainment when you’re involved in a scandal, so it isn’t fair if you deny them that. Loool!  


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