It's on your Permanent Record!

The enormity of kids' digital footprints

“This is going on your permanent record!”  Who among those of us over 40 doesn’t remember those words from their school days? 

Four times in the past month Cape Cod Today has been approached by someone who committed a “youthful indiscretion” in the distant past and ended up with their Fifteen Minutes of Fame being documented in a police blotter, perp walk or maybe even a booking photo story. 

Indeed, Cape Cod Today’s story archives go back some nineteen years.  The Internet is absolutely part of these folks’ “Permanent Record.”

Each of the four men that approached us had been arrested for some petty crime or another in their late teens, perhaps whilst working on the Cape for the summer or vacationing here with friends.  All four men were between their late 20’s and late 30’s.  All four had either been acquitted or the charges were dropped.  Now, years later, they are running into problems with their “Internet Reputation” as potential employers – or in one case a prospective father-in-law – Google them and learn of their sordid past.

Arrest records are routinely released by police departments.  You see them in newspapers, on community news sites like CapeCodToday.com and on countless forms of social media.

Years ago, college kids would come to the Cape to work and to sow their wild oats for a summer or two.  Many of them spent a night in jail for one reason or another.  Then they went back to college and forgot about their “youthful indiscretion”.  That was fine 25 or 30 years ago but not so much from the mid-1990’s onwards.

Problem is, those youthful indiscretions became part of these young men’s permanent digital record – their “online reputation” as it’s called by many today. 

For a person who got in trouble in the 90’s, the digital footprint of their arrest doesn’t run too deep.  If a news site is cooperative (like we are), the stories can be taken down and will to some extent fade from the person’s digital footprint fairly soon.

However, for a person who was arrested after the dawn of social media it’s almost impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.  With police blotters and news reports being broadcast and shared on social media, tweeted and re-tweeted and passed on more forums that I can count – it is nearly impossible to follow how far a single arrest report can go.

Parents: This is a teachable moment.  We didn’t grow up with this kind of exposure but today’s teenagers have enormous digital footprints that are slippery as an eel to control.  Some “stupid” thing a 17 or 18 year old does today can literally haunt them the rest of their life.

As the old song goes, “Teach your children well”.  Whatever is broadcast can be received.  Whatever they do in social media may last forever.  Their youthful indiscretions can haunt them well into adulthood.  


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