Digital Tattoos: How Social Media Shapes Your Students' (and Your) Online Image and How to Protect It


Do you have a tattoo?  What’s the story behind it?  What does it say about who you are?  Tattoos have been around for over 5,000 years.  For centuries people have been marking their bodies for a variety of purposes; love, status, tribute, and medical just to name a few.  Today the tattoo industry is busier than ever though an Internet search quickly proves that there are clearly some that regret the decision.  Is social media that much different?  Do we not post statuses that declare our love, tribute, medical dilemmas and more, much like people tattoo their skin?  If that is the case, do we not regret some of our social media posts as well?

The term “digital footprint” is well known and represents what trace of us we leave behind when we are visible and active online.  It is a catchy phrase but in my opinion not completely accurate.  Footprints can be washed away.  They can be covered over so they are no longer visible.  A tattoo is much more difficult to make invisible.  Even in attempts to remove tattoos there is always some trace of the scar that remains.  It is important to teach our students that what we do online never truly goes away.

What Does your Digital Tattoo Say About You? 

What does your online identity say about you?  If parents, students or future employers were to conduct online investigations about you what would they find?  Would they find you are a learner?  A parent?  A tech-geek?  Are you a pessimist?  Generous?  How about a partier?  Ask yourself, would your digital tattoo:  lose you a job?  Gain you a job?  Or have absolutely no impact on your job at all?  While some might think the third option is best I’d beg to differ.  In today’s society one needs to look at their digital presence much like their credit score- if you have none, it may affect the way you are perceived.  It’s best to establish a “brand” for how you would like to be seen and to create a space of your own!

Where to Begin 

The first thing you need to think about when you are forming or modifying your digital tattoo is to find out what is out there already. It is important to note that when you are searching for yourself do not log in to your browser (for example if you are using Chrome do not sign in).  If you are signed in your search results will be modified. Try different browsers as well. Next, be sure to place your search query in “quotation marks” for greater accuracy.  Finally, don’t simple conduct a Google search of your name.  Certainly start there but be sure to conduct a Google search of your common usernames (mine yielded 16 pages of Google for my username and 9 pages for my full name!) and search using a maiden name if you are married.  As you can see from the image, there is a lot of information out there about me! 

Following are a list of sites- see what information can be discovered about you for free. (don’t forget image searches too!)

Once you know what is out there about you it becomes easier to control the brand you would like to present to the world.  If there is content you would prefer is removed you can ask the party responsible for posting it to remove it although they may choose not to do so.  While you may not be able to remove everything you can certainly “push it down” on Google’s search results by posting more of what you would like your brand to say.  One example: build interest portfolios by creating one and pushing it out there on all of your social media sites!  If you are interested in seeing some examples here is one I created on being a baseball fan (almost every single image was taken by me) and another I created about running.  My 13-year-old daughter even created one on her photography skills! 

Teaching Future Educators and Students 

I am an adjunct professor at two Universities in the Chicagoland area, teaching pre-service teachers how technology can fit into their future classrooms.  During the course we spend time talking about digital tattoos and even perform “data-mines” on “strangers”.  “Strangers” is listed in quotations because I know the folks being mined-they are friends of mine!  The experience is eye-opening and the students enjoy the lesson.

Smaller Learners

For younger students (elementary, middle school, etc.) there are a series of online resources that can help them learn about and control their online reputations.  These include:

Content on this subject was presented to educators attending the I.E.T.C. conference in Springfield, IL and at Waukegan's Google n' More conference.  Additional resources from the presentation are below.

Digital Afterlife? Yes!  You need to now think about all of your online accounts and how they will be handled after your death.  The resources below are an excellent place to begin!

References for the Presentation


Misc. (Wayback Machine)


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