Ignore Your Digital Footprint At Your Peril

Reputation is everything. Most of us know that. We wouldn’t dream of behaving inappropriately in a professional environment. Neither would we knowingly allow others to see us at our worst. 

Over the last few months I’ve tried to impress upon our final year students how important displaying the right attitude is. And, as they prepare to graduate, I’ve encouraged them to think about how this manifests itself in all areas of their lives – including their digital footprint. If we are active online we have one, but not everyone is aware of how visible it is or the potential damage misusing it can do.

Employers are spending more and more time checking personal profiles on the likes of Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn. Many are open about using is as a means of establishing the suitability of candidates.  I’ve advised caution when it comes to banter which spills over onto social networks and could be misconstrued. We’ve had visitors from the media industry who’ve reinforced this message. Some have illustrated their warnings with tales of people who have fallen foul of company regulations relating to conduct.

What we say and do online is public. Despite privacy settings, we leave a trail wherever we go, especially when we step in public forums.  What we say online has as much, sometimes more impact, than a face to face conversation. So why do some people discard the effect of their words simply because they don’t say them?

Yesterday my attention was drawn to a tweet sent to the former Welsh international footballer, now broadcaster, Robbie Savage. The person who sent it refers to himself as a “Masters student” in his profile. I should say at this point, that he has nothing to do with this university. I read his tweet because it was retweeted by Savage. The Masters student label implies a level of academic achievement and maturity, but it tells us nothing about the integrity of the person or their emotional intelligence.

Savage lost his father on Saturday.  Colin Savage had Pick’s disease, a rare form of dementia. Savage junior announced the sad news on Twitter after completing his broadcasting commitments on the sports phone-in 606 on Radio 5 live.

I interviewed Robbie Savage during my time as a sports reporter.  What you see is what you get; a man who wears his heart on his sleeve and says what he thinks. That’s what makes him a great pundit and an entertaining broadcaster.

As anyone who’s lost a much-loved parent knows, the experience is brutal. He was a man in pain when he broke the news to his 700,000 plus followers at the weekend.  His words resonated with me and I, like hundreds of others, responded by sending him my condolences.

However, what I hadn’t anticipated, was the barrage of abuse which peppered the compassionate, respectful tweets.  They were, and have continued to be, abhorrent. The one which prompted this blog, was written, as I’ve intimated, by someone describing himself as a 25-year-old single father who couldn’t wait to finish his Masters degree.  He sent a cruel, spiteful tweet to a man who is already suffering one of the worst kinds of heartache.

Clearly this is an extreme example of  seriously inappropriate behaviour. Abusing someone online must be one of the worst, most cowardly forms of bullying. I have no idea who this man is or why he sent the tweet – or whether he considered the implications on Savage or himself. But there are thousands of so-called “keyboard warriors” banking on what they perceive to be the anonymity of their online presence to enable them to remain hidden.

Hundreds of Savage’s followers expressed their outrage directly to the 25-year-old who verbally abused him. Many copied Twitter and the Metropolitan Police into their retweets, asking them to investigate and remove this person’s account. Within an hour it had been deleted, but the “evidence” remains. His account may be defunct, but the contribution of this single father to the Twitter Trends map for example, remains.

Stories about children becoming depressed or worse, taking their own lives as a result of online cyber bullying, are becoming increasingly common.  But clearly it isn’t just our children who need to be educated about what is acceptable when it comes to online activity.

Social media sites provide a platform for interaction and can act as excellent personal marketing tools.  But if they are used for the wrong purpose, the consequences can be catastrophic. No-one should be naive enough to think that they can abuse someone online without there being repercussions, not least because there is the potential for so many people to see a comment which might have been meant for one person.

As billionaire businessman Warren Buffett said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” A number of people asked the Savage abuser which university he went to. At one point he claimed that his account had been hacked. However, previous tweets carried abuse of another footballer, which were made much earlier. Either he or the “authorities” have taken action to at least remove the offending profile from the site. But if he thinks his digital footprint has been erased along with his account, he’s very much mistaken.

Julie Kissick

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About Julie Kissick

I'm a journalist with extensive experience working in radio, television, newspapers and magazines. I've been a manager, broadcaster and content producer for various media outlets including BBC, ITV and Northcliffe Newspaper Group. I have a passion for teaching and learning, social media and football.
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