Internet Safety Month: How to manage your child’s online presence
When you hear the term “reputation risk management,” you might think of a buzzword used in the business sector. Reputation risk management is a term used to describe how companies identify potential risks that may harm their reputation and mitigate them before they blow off.
As companies grow, so grows their public reputation. Heading potential PR disasters or credible crises off at the pass can keep organizations from losing revenue, confidence, and trust from their clients. Suffice it to say, putting your best foot forward and keeping it there is crucial.
Now, here’s a thought: If businesses know they have much to lose if their reputation is threatened, shouldn’t parents and guardians also consider that their children can lose out if their digital footprint is at risk?
To cap off Internet Safety Month, we’re going to ditch the buzzword in favor of a phrase that parents, teens, and young kids can easily grasp: You must manage your online presence. Before we delve into how parents and guardians can take charge, it is crucial that we first understand one thing when it comes to having a digital life:
Your online presence is your online reputation
Our digital footprint starts the moment we or someone we know shares something about us online. This could be a solo or group photo, a Facebook status update, or a name mention in a Tweet. Even those who claim to be inactive on the Internet can still have an online presence, thanks to other people in their lives.
Our footprints don’t stop at our first “Hello, World!” though. The more we use the Internet, and the more we’re included in other people’s social media feeds, the more of our footprints are left for anyone online to see. These marks we leave behind can be collectively referred to as our online presence. How we present ourselves to and conduct ourselves in the digital world affects how people perceive us online—now and in the future.
Having an online presence, whether it’s a positive on negative one, affects our reputation—online and in the real world. If “Jane Doe” is known to exhibit behavior tantamount to bullying in a forum she frequents, she already has a bad reputation in that community. Who she is and how she behaves in that community can also spill over to other online forum communities as well.
There are consequences for bad behavior online. She may be blocked from those communities. Or worse, someone may Google her name and become aware of her bullying behavior online. She could feel the impact of her negative actions in the workplace or beyond when coworkers or friends become aware that Doe is engaged in bullying in forums, they can assume that she has the tendency to bully people in real life as well.
Leaving only negative digital footprints online, then, has no longer become an option.
What you can tell your kids to manage their online presence
“Google yourself.” Maybe it has been a while since your kid started using the Internet, or you and your child are just curious of what might come up. (Hint: type your name in quotes) Either way, it’s advisable to look up where your name, public posts, and/or photos end up every now and then.
If your child has a common name, you can further add modifiers (like the school they go to or city/state/town you live in). Just run many searches with varying modifier combinations and see what comes up. As for photos, you can use Google’s image and reverse image searches. To do the latter, go to the Google Image Search page and click the camera icon in the search bar. You can then paste the URL of an image you have of your child (in the first tab) or drag-and-drop to upload their picture (in the second tab), so Google can crawl the web in search for other copies of the one you just provided.
Google Image Search page processing the image you uploaded for reverse lock-up
Other things you can use to search for are email addresses, social media usernames, and phone numbers. You can also set up Google to alert you if other information about your child (like their name) pops up on the Internet at some point in the future.
“Watch out for information you don’t want made public.” It’s possible that you may have already stumbled upon a few pieces of information or pictures you or your child may not want online, or at least visible to the public. This information may have been put up years ago or yesterday.
Posts can be easily removed on sites you or your child can control, such as Facebook and Twitter. But for third-party sites, it may need a bit of legwork. For copyrighted material such as photos, you can contact the site owners and reference the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) [PDF]. As the parent or responsible adult, you may also need to contact each website that has information about your child that you don’t want there.
It’s also time to review those security and privacy settings of your child’s accounts to see if there has been a policy update or if you need to modify additional settings.
“Start cleaning up your online act.” A good starting point will be teaching them good computing and Internet practices, if you haven’t already. We have various references of how one can do this here on the Malwarebytes Labs blog. So to avoid reinventing the wheel, below are the links you may want to visit and read up on:
- Simple steps for online safety
- 10 ways to prevent malware infection
- How to avoid potentially unwanted programs
- 3, 2, 1, GO! Make backups of your data
- How do I secure my social media profile
- 10 tips to maintain an online presence in a privacy-hostile world
The work doesn’t stop here, though. Parents and guardians should also put great emphasis on kindness, understanding, and patience when they treat or deal with other Internet users. Hiding behind the screen shouldn’t merit one to forgo these values.
Lastly, impress in them the idea of thinking first before posting anything. Online, it’s easy enough for anyone to misconstrue what one is trying to say because cues like facial expressions and body language are non-existent. A flippant joke or a sarcastic remark could start a flame war. Even an innocent post can sometimes get someone else in trouble.
“Deactivate/Delete accounts you’re no longer using.” This may seem obvious, but at times, accounts that are no longer used are left active for an indefinite and extended period because your child may have decided to use another account, or wholly avoided people in a particular online community. The latter is one of the best reasons why your child’s account should be deactivated. This is especially helpful if, for example, your child was caught in a crossfire between warring parties and one group started targeting him or her via that account. Save everyone the headache (and the insanity) and deactivate the account.
In a perfect world…
…every Internet user would be sharing all of their achievements, and everyone would be applauding. Every Internet user would be encouraging everyone who needs encouraging. Every Internet user would be honest, civil, and tactful. Every Internet user would be sharing photos of only their best, wholesome selfies, their cats, and funny GIFs.
But this isn’t a perfect world. Someone will always say something that another may find offensive. Someone will put someone else down, talk in Caps Lock, and share photos of their wild partying or of a drunk friend who passed out on a sidewalk. In the end, realize that there is data online about someone that puts them in a bad light. Your child may not be exempted. So help them take control and guide them on how to be more responsible with what they share now and in the future.
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