The Potential Danger of NO Digital Footprint

"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

For years we've taught students about the importance of maintaining and protecting their digital footprints. We know that what we post online and what others post about us can have a lasting impact on our futures. People pass judgement about us based on what dirt they can dig up in a simple online search. The information unearthed can determine whether or not we get that scholarship, job, or date we are pursuing. But can the absence of a digital footprint have a negative impact as well? Is it also important to ensure that you actually have an online presence that supports the future you wish to build for yourself?

I recently witnessed a major real estate transaction get jeopardized by the lack of an online presence. A couple looking to purchase a multi-million dollar property claimed they would have substantial funds pending the sale of their company, which they said was eminent. But a thorough online search of the husband and wife found very little information about them or their company, good, bad or otherwise, calling into question the legitimacy of their business dealings and financial health, thus potentially derailing the real estate transaction altogether.

On the other hand, in some cases, the lack of an Internet presence has no negative impact. We recently hired a new nanny for our children through As part of our due diligence, we conducted an online search for information about our potential candidates. When I was able to find little more than a locked down Facebook profile for our 20-something candidate, I was disappointed, but no red flags were raised.

However, if I was doing a background search for someone looking to work with me as an instructional technology coordinator, the lack of an online presence would be concerning. One would expect an ed tech leader to be active online. If a candidate had no Twitter account, blog, website, or other professional online contributions, I would question their knowledge base and abilities to serve in this type of position.

The newly released 2016 ISTE Standards for Students addresses that students need to "cultivate and manage their digital identity and reputation and [be] aware of the permanence of their actions in a digital world" (Standard 2a). In this day and age, I believe it's critical that students not only avoid posting inappropriate or negative content, but also strive to create an online presence that supports and reflects the lives they wish to lead and people they hope to become.

As educators, we must find ways to help students understand the types of contributions they should make to their online communities to both "broaden mutual understanding and learning" (ISTE standard 7a) while simultaneously fostering their online and thereby real-life reputations and futures.

After all, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, it likely did make a sound, but how can you prove it??


  1. Hello Anna,
    I'm glad you have shared this perspective on digital footprints. I have long said digital citizenship is setting the bar too low. We should be guiding students in the practice of becoming digital contributors. The problem is educators who are digital contributors are in the minority so the modeling and confidence are lacking. Teachers as sharing learners - that's step in the right direction.

  2. This is so useful and easy to understand I shared this with my class and got a wonderful response.


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