Internet Safety Month: Protect Your Digital Footprint first appeared on The Virtual Voice on June 17, 2014.

By: Amos Goldie, FLVS Instructor

Today’s teens consume Social Media every day – perhaps every five minutes in many cases! How often, though, do they consider the implications of their online activities?

The Social Media course at Florida Virtual School has been compared to “Driver’s Ed for the Internet” – teaching students about the safe and responsible operation of Social Media. Here are the top five tips from the course:

1) Protect your Digital Footprint – it’s the sum of every interaction involving you, and it lives FOREVER. While it’s obviously important to control what YOU post (photos, status updates, etc.), it’s also important to discover who ELSE is influencing your digital footprint – tagging you in photos, mentioning you in posts, etc. Keep your eyes open.

2) Periodically check whether the ONLINE “you” matches the REAL WORLD “you.” Like checking our real world appearance in the mirror every once in a while, it’s important to know how other people see and judge the online “you.” One of our assignments directs students to post “What three words come to mind when you see my online profile?” and then analyze the responses they collect. Often, students are surprised by the image they are putting out there. Be mindful of how you represent yourself.

3) Never compare your REAL life to other peoples so-called “perfect” ONLINE lives. We all put our best foot forward online – it’s human nature, and it’s called “curating” your identity. Unfortunately, when sensitive teenagers find their life doesn’t measure up to their peer’s shiny, happy “curated” lives, they can suffer social media-induced loneliness and depression. Don’t envy others’ seeming happiness – it’s often a mirage.

4) Learn how to handle online criticism. In our Social Media course, we compare the story of Domino’s Pizza (who used negative customer feedback constructively to improve their product) to the story of Amy’s Baking Company (who infamously flamed their customers and called them all idiots). Lesson learned? If criticism is valuable, use it as a tool to make improvements. If it is mean-spirited or destructive, IGNORE IT – and never respond in anger. In fact, never respond at all: “Don’t feed the trolls.”

5) Discover the power of Social Media to make a positive difference in the world around us. Facebook is not just for selfies! Our students conduct a “Passion Project” in which they create a socially-active social media campaign. Examples include raising awareness about the need to adopt homeless pets, encouraging participation in a neighborhood cleanup day, and raising money for wounded veterans, etc. One of the best ways to stay SAFE online is to stay POSITIVE – that type of energy is contagious, and it can take your Social Media experience to the next level!

Check out the video below from our Social Media course which touches on these topics. With these tips in mind, students can stay safe, true to themselves, happy in their own lives, and empowered by a positive, can-do mindset!

Florida Virtual is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

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