Parents panic over teenagers’ online reputations

A new survey shows that nearly three quarters of parents are deeply concerned about how their children are viewed on the internet. Is “online reputation” worth worrying about in the digital age?

The Pew Research Center, a highly-regarded American think tank, has just published a survey of parents in the US. Their findings show that a whopping 69% of them are seriously worried about the online reputations of their children.

Whatever we do on the internet, we present an image of ourselves to the rest of the online world. The products we buy, the forums we use, and even what we search for on Google – traces of all of these are left behind, and can be used to build up a picture of who we are.

Usually, our most visible online representations are our social media profiles. Over a billion people worldwide now use Facebook, and a large number of them are teenagers. Last year 88% of young people in the UK had active accounts with the social networking giant.

With so many teens conducting their social lives in the open online world, parents are becoming more and more concerned about the effect that this might be having on their offspring – on their social standing and their future job prospects, as well as on their safety and security.

Building a reputation is indeed an important part of the social media culture. Self-promotion is built into the very nature of Facebook and Twitter, with users being encouraged to upload as many details about who they are and what they do as possible. It is now common for people to judge what strangers or new acquaintances might be like by taking a look at their Facebook page: checking their photos, status updates, and how many friends they have.

One of the most worrying things for parents is the fact that potential employers can also check someone’s social media profile before hiring them. Such is their concern that the Pew report also shows that as many as 68% of parents have set up their own social media profiles purely in order to keep an eye on their tech-savvy teens, and to make sure that they don’t post anything damaging or incriminating.

Bad rep

Many would agree that it is right to be anxious about the damage that can be done by online over-sharing. Such is the concern that the EU recently implemented a new set of laws under which reputation-conscious consumers will be able to demand that any embarrassing, inaccurate or personal information be permanently deleted from the internet.

Although it could be the case that adults’ worries are just a consequence of the difference between the older and the younger generations. Years ago, before the internet age, communication between people was far more private by nature, and it could be that many parents simply don’t understand today’s mindset, which normalises the open sharing of personal data with others. Everybody does it, it’s the way the world works now. So why worry?

You Decide

  1. Is it old-fashioned to worry about the openness of the internet?
  2. Should employers take people’s online reputations into account?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are a parent worried about your child’s online reputation. Write a letter to a newspaper illustrating your concerns.
  2. Create a plan for a social media profile that would build a positive online reputation – and then do the same for a negative one!

Some People Say...

“A good reputation is more valuable than money.’ Publilius Syrus”

What do you think?

Q & A

How can I protect my online reputation?
For a start, check your social network privacy settings. If there is anything at all on your profile which you wouldn’t happily show a parent or employer, make sure it is not publicly viewable. Do not post anything on public forums that could be construed as offensive, inappropriate or incriminating – even under a false name. There is always a possibility you will be traced.
Anything else I need to be careful of?
Yes. Don’t post any information that could be used to access private accounts: passwords or answers to typical ‘secret questions’ such as your mother’s maiden name. To be totally safe, you should even refrain from sharing personal details like your date of birth – though it’s unlikely that much could be done with that information alone.

Word Watch

Pew Research Center
An organisation that provides information and research on social trends affecting the world, with particular emphasis on the USA. The Center is divided into seven different research projects, focusing on areas such as religion and the press. This particular survey was conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
Traces
When someone browses the internet, websites send small pieces of data known as ‘cookies’, which are then stored on the user’s web browser. This data can be used (by people who know how!) to track the user’s activity: it is possible to discover what they looked at, and what they did, sometimes months or even years ago.
New set of laws
The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, proposed the ‘right to be forgotten’ laws in January 2012, and passed them later that month. The laws, which will not be implemented for another two years, also grant the EU the ability to fine companies who refuse to delete data.

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