My high school yearbooks are tucked away in a dusty old box in my parents basement. During my late teens I worried religiously that my Mom or Dad would "creep" on them, digging through the inked-up pages that are filled with revealing summer tales and the odd swear word. Today, nothing is this easy to hide, thanks to Internet communities and conversations that never, ever, go away.
Just this week an online reputation company called Reppler released a report revealing that 47 per cent of Facebook users have profanity on their walls. This comes as no big surprise. Search "hate my job" or "hate my boss" on OpenBook and you'll see status after status of Facebookers openly expressing these terms, complete with their full names and profile pics.
As I check in on friends and family members on the world's number one social networking site I am constantly amazed at what people feel comfortable saying and sharing, and how a significant percentage of the online population just doesn't get that privacy is something that can be protected without jeopardizing the benefits of an uncensored Internet.
While I chalk up adult online mishaps as just plain dumb, especially with so much media awareness about employers browsing profile pages on a regular basis, I can't help but wonder if we should be doing more to teach kids about digital reputation management. Companies like Reputation.com are already making it easy for working professionals to control how they look when they're searched online, but a younger generation seems to be at ease with a total lack of privacy and openly personal Internet conversations, and it could hurt them down the road.
I speak at a lot of education conferences and the only solution I can think of, after recognizing that not much is happening here in Canada on this front, is to establish a countrywide program to teach digital reputation management in schools. Not only should this address proper online etiquette, later in the school years it can also focus on how a professional Internet image (and reputation) will have its advantages as a young person tries to get his or her first job or wants to start networking online to launch a career.
After all, I can always burn those old yearbooks. On the web today, a young person's tracks are not so simple to erase.