Teens digital footprints haunt their future opportunities

It is a terrifying realization that each small online action made on a daily basis could harm someone’s future in a matter of years. In my own Generation Z, my peers and I have grown up with social media platforms, and it is harder than ever to avoid an online presence. What is concerning is the fact that our futures are affected by both our social and digital reputations. This is why it is so important for teenagers to become exposed to the truth behind their online actions.
As I’m sure is true for many of my peers, when I downloaded Snapchat and Instagram, I skimmed over the “terms and conditions” announcement, racing to hit the “I agree” button. On all social media platforms this warning is technically available but not stressed to the point of complete awareness on the part of minors. After all, I did not download the app to be warned about social media consequences. There were no second thoughts about the fine print that declared all my data could be used and given out by the company as I signed my privacy away.
What aroused me from my blind trust in social media was the information that deleted content would never truly disappear from my record. A digital footprint is the permanent information one leaves behind when participating in online activity. According to Mohit Rajhans, media expert and DEI Communications Consultant, our footprints cover everything we have been sharing online for the past two decades. They are available to companies gathering data for commercial value, but more importantly employers and college admissions officers.
An unstable digital footprint poses the largest threat towards college admissions. According to Susanna R. Cerasuolo, founder and CEO of “College Mapper”, 40% of college admissions officers will research your digital footprint when considering your application. No matter what qualifications you have, your digital footprint is a concealed part of your resume. Teenagers with their hearts set on college need to carefully monitor their online reputation and keep their digital footprint “squeaky clean,” Cerasuolo said.
Deep cleaning your social media is the best start to rebranding your footprint. Anyone can do this by deleting old accounts and content you are not proud of, untagging yourself from posts and removing information you believe does not reflect the person you are today. Cerasuolo suggests asking yourself if your social media passes the “grandma test”; would you show this post to your Grandma? If otherwise, it’s probably not the image you want future employers to see either.
Generation Z has faced the harshest effects of the rapidly growing threat of digital footprinting. After all, it is such a new concept that most adults don’t even understand what it is. The only information we are exposed to are horror stories about college admissions being rescinded based on media and comments posted when the person was a minor. Even outside of a university, employers are almost guaranteed to check your footprint. “It’s a great window into what you really bring to the table for somebody,” Rajhans said.
In the midst of this looming threat, there is a silver lining. Positive online content will benefit those who are applying to schools and interviewing for jobs. While employers have the ability to see what you post, you have the ability to control what you post. If you make sure that what you comment and post would not be embarrassing to be reviewed by a future employer, there is no need to worry.
With the rise of Generation Alpha, the digital footprint of our younger siblings, cousins and children is in our hands and it is up to us to protect those entering the digital age.