Mr Anderson or Neo? The choice may no longer be yours to make.

Over recent years there have been several examples in the news where social media has cost people jobs or relationships. An example that springs to mind is this post from 2009, in which a Facebooker openly criticized her boss on Facebook, forgetting they were Facebook friends. But reading around the topic, and re-reading that particular article made me think a few things. Firstly, on the employees behalf her digital activity got her fired, but that post is deletable from Facebook and the article doesn’t contain her name. Secondly, the boss has also behaved in an inexcusable way. Firing the employee via Facebook is a similarly poor thing to do in terms of maintaining a professional online presence.

[youtube width=”700″ height=”344″][/youtube]The Matrix. Dir. Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999. DVD.

Mr Anderson’s Digital Footprint gets him into trouble with ‘The System’. These days we do not have the choice to be Neo or Mr Anderson. Instead we might have to be both.


Personally, I know that I have an extended digital footprint. Partly it is hidden (hard but not impossible to find), and partly it is open. My true footprint that can still be traced involves in part:

  • A website operated since 2002
  • 5143 posts on one particular internet forum.
  • My COETAIL blog.
  • Facebook (since 2005)/Twitter accounts.

However I have also played online games since we had ‘online’, and I have had a presence on those games’ forums. I am an occasional contributor to programming forums. I cant easily search up this information, but it doesn’t mean its not there or detectable to the most invasive checks. Herein lies part of the problem of a digital footprint.

A history of my website –, between 2002 and 2008. Iterations of the website still exist in offline archives. Even websites persist through changes in some form on the internet. Perhaps it is time to revive the personal website to further demonstrate who I am and what I stand for?

This article (via Mashable) gave me an interesting insight into how employers actually go about looking at job applicants. 69% of employers have passed over a candidate because of what they saw on social media. 91% of employers use social media to help screen candidates. Almost 50% use it as soon as they receive an application. This means that if you have something on your Facebook account that looks bad, nearly half of employers you apply to wont even give you the chance to exhibit yourself to them personally. For me as a Britishcitizen working as an international school teacher I do wonder about how other cultures perceive me. If we take alcohol for example, there appears to be a huge divide in what Americans and the British deem appropriate when it comes to alcohol consumption. In the United Kingdom, teachers having a drink or two on a school trip (in the evening after students have gone to bed) is often fine. So long as you aren’t drunk and at least one person is capable of driving and being fully responsible then it is usually acceptable. In an American school however this is wholly unacceptable, and is potentially a sack-able offence. This article from the Daily Mail (or Georgia News which uses the exact same words but cites different authors…) showed how a teacher from a high school in the US State of Georgia was forced to resign as a result of posting a picture of herself drinking on holiday in Europe. There was nothing illegal about it (even in Georgia the teacher was well within her rights to drink alcohol), no students were present, involved, able to see the photo on Facebook, or under her care- but it got out and the stigma associated with it cost her a job. Her name is now plastered all over the internet in a negative way, and any prospective employer might think twice before employing her (not necessarily because they agree with the firing but because they then become the people who hired the woman who was fired).

On the other hand, 68% of the employers interviewed also hired candidates because of what they saw on social media. In this case social media gave these candidates a boost. I think it may be seen as a way of extending your CV or Personal Statement. A method of demonstrating to employers how employable you are. An interesting read by William M Ferriter that supports this suggests that not having a digital footprint in the future could disadvantage you in the job market. Ferriter suggests that in the future, these digital footprints will be essential ways for prospective employers to see your creativity and your collaborations. In essence your digital footprint becomes your CV, giving employees the ability again to extend beyond what can be communicated in a job application. Personally I am hoping that employers look at these blog posts, because I think it will help them decide if I am the right fit for their school (and hopefully then decide that yes, yes I am!). But then the question becomes are we appropriately preparing our students for this future. We do help them get the qualifications they require, but are we teaching them how to showcase their other skills?

Is COETAIL an extension of my CV?

Is COETAIL an extension of my CV?

The Georgian teachers predicament brings up another topic we should be educating students about. The parent who informed the headmaster of this teachers ‘indiscretion’ has now potentially ruined the career of someone who might have been a fantastic teacher. If a student, parent or even a stranger decides to name and shame an individual (perhaps making up a lie to do so) there is nothing that teacher can do about it. A hot topic in the British news right now is of something called ‘Up-skirting’, where people take pictures up women’s skirts without their knowledge. The law in England is vague on the specific criminal nature of this, which is why it is currently under the microscope. A BBC Magazine article has one comment from a teacher saying how it happened to her at school by students. If those students decided to post that online, there is little the teacher can do to stop it propagating. Whilst this would hopefully not affect her ability to get a job, it does put an embarrassing dent in her digital footprint and potentially her ability to continue on in her current job. Again this is where we as educators need to consider how we teach students about the morals of their online activity. How they treat others and respect them online should reflect their attitudes in the real world.

The internet doesn’t have a delete button that can just remove content forever- especially if it gets picked up by a few news outlets or makes it on to twitter. As Ben Parker famously said to Peter Parker (Spiderman), “With great power, comes great responsibility“. On one hand we need to be teaching our students about the impact of words, and of putting things ‘out there’ about others that could harm them. On the other hand we need to be teaching them how what they put out there about themselves can be equally harmful, irrespective of how innocuous or common it seems. But the theme need not be a negative one, as it has become clear that digital footprints can help job seekers as well as hinder them. Instead we need to educate our students to be decent people irrespective of the medium they are communicating in, whilst simultaneously teaching them how to build themselves a digital presence that shows them off to be decent, creative, and intelligent human beings.

P.S. XKCD does have a different take on the matter! (Beware bad language!!)




3 thoughts on “Mr Anderson or Neo? The choice may no longer be yours to make.

  1. Alex, really like the Mashable
    article. This will be a good resource when discussing online presence with high school students and how university admissions are now implementing the same procedures. Equally, the same goes for university applications as for potential employers. A researcher showed that 44 colleges and universities within 150 miles of Chicago, 67 percent “Google” prospective students.

    Regarding the poor teacher from Winder Country, this is one of the reasons I did my five years and went abroad. It is a very threatening place to be a teacher; hyper litigious, and would make any Gulf state look liberal on certain levels. Georgia is the Bible belt.

    Equally, I love how students’ positive online presence potentially helped their case. I frequently state how, if a teacher candidate does not show up in an internet search, then perhaps their levels of tech integration are not as high as their CV might suggest. I know that neither extreme necessarily makes a valid case, but one would think that through tech integration and pursuing a productive PLN, a teacher would have a visible professional digital footprint.

    On a lighter didactic note, this video demonstrating the negative side of a poor online presence entitled,Overexposed by Nicholas Chen and Edan Freiberger, is humorous and kids might appreciate it.

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