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Digital footprint: Making a meaningful mark on the web

By Manasa Sriraj Dec. 8, 2021

As global reliance on the web hits new highs, applications and websites are able to more easily collect and document details about users’ web activities. With people around the world able to access this information within minutes, the importance of maintaining a positive digital footprint has gained recognition in recent years. This proves to be especially true for adolescents and young adults, who, according to Pew Research Center, use online resources more than most other age groups.

A digital footprint is the personal information an individual reveals to the internet with their online activity and can have “passive” and “active” components. This information makes up the user’s digital identity, which may encompass their usernames, passwords, online search history and transaction documentation.

Desiree Vu-De Leon Art

Even if they do not intend to, users leave behind some private data each time they log onto a social media platform, website or application. For example, according to Network Telecom, many websites use cookies, which are often active by default, to monitor visitors’ future searches and better target certain advertisements toward them. Information collected in such involuntary ways forms a user’s passive digital footprint that users can do very little to avoid.

In contrast, a user’s active digital footprint consists of the personal information they knowingly share online, including blog or social media posts. By tracking actions such as pressing the “like” button on social media content, the internet records users’ reactions to help understand their personal relationships and interests. Additionally, when a user inputs personal information into a website, other websites on which the user entered the same information are able to recognize the match to develop a narrative about their identity.

By tracking actions such as pressing the “like” button on social media content, the internet records users’ reactions to help understand their personal relationships and interests.

An individual’s digital footprint indicates their digital citizenship, which measures how actively and constructively they contribute to the online community. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that teens spend up to nine hours per day on the web, leading to increased cyberbullying, sexual exploitation and toxic peer pressure in the age group. With in-depth education about how to maintain proper digital citizenship, teens can avoid such risks.

Besides personal safety, the quality of a teen’s digital citizenship may also impact their academic and professional success.

Besides personal safety, the quality of a teen’s digital citizenship may also impact their academic and professional success. According to US News, IvyWise and Net Nanny, some employers and approximately 36% of universities also view the social media pages and histories of prospective and existing employees or students to profile individuals more thoroughly. Controversially, as stated by the University of California, San Diego, some academic institutions investigate several applicants’ social media surveillance to see if any members of their community are considering violence or perpetrating online prejudice, violence and harassment.

“Beyond high school transcripts and college essays, online behavior can reveal important aspects about applicants’ personality, making it necessary for colleges to investigate the social media pages of applicants,” Sophomore Vishal Makaram said.

Subsequently, young adults often face rejection or expulsion from universities or jobs when institutions discover that they have previously posted inappropriate content—even if these posts were eventually deleted. For instance, the Harvard Crimson reported that in 2017, the university canceled its acceptance of 10 members of the incoming class upon discovering that they had been sending memes and messages ridiculing sexual assault, child abuse and the Holocaust in a Facebook chat.

“School districts can provide colleges with background checks on prospective students for safety, but social media checks are unnecessary invasions of privacy,” Junior Samika Mathada said.

Eduspire Solutions states that behaving according to the same morals online as one does in person constitutes a valuable digital citizen. Good digital citizenship also involves maintaining integrity online, combating harmful online activity and using the internet to advocate for notable causes. Also, it involves teaching individuals to respect and uphold personal boundaries.

[Educators] are integrating digital citizenship into their curriculums

Globally, educators are integrating digital citizenship into their curriculums, recognizing that the younger generation must be able to separate fact from fiction and stay safe from online threats. Teachers are holding classroom discussions about the different aspects of digital citizenship and how to achieve them using online resources. Additionally, various classes at the school teach students to validate research sources using the Currency, Reliability, Authority, Accuracy and Purpose test, questioning the reliability of any information on the internet.

“Without tones and facial expressions accompanying them, internet comments can sometimes be misinterpreted as rude or offensive. Consequently, I have become more mindful of what I say online and how I say it to preserve a positive reputation on the web,” Senior Nitika Rao said.

When used responsibly, the internet is capable of spreading unity and meaningful change. With standardized digital citizenship training, youth may be more likely to become contributive internet users of the future.


About the Contributors

Manasa Sriraj

Feature World Editor

Manasa is a sophomore at Leland High School. Her passions include playing and composing songs on the guitar, stumping others with card tricks and geography trivia, engineering Rube-Goldberg machines out of Legos and playing board games with her family. She also loves experimenting with new recipes, shooting hoops, and fantasizing about being a crime investigator in the FBI.

Desiree Vu-De Leon


Desiree is a high schooler at Leland High School and contributes to The Charger Account. She has a large variety of hobbies from bird watching to collecting pressed pennies.

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