When 13-year-old Rebecca Black’s parents handed ARK Music Factory a $4,000 check to have them cut a single and create an accompanying music video for their daughter, they couldn’t possibly have imagined what would happen.
Four months after “Friday” was recorded, filmed and posted to YouTube it went viral, receiving 166 million views and 3.2 million “dislikes.” Not long after, comedians like Jimmy Fallon and Steven Colbert lampooned the “so-bad-it’s-good” single and critics unanimously echoed that “Friday” was “the worst song ever written.” The derision must have stung, but it was only further exasperated by bullying at school, ominous phone calls and emails containing death threats.
Browse YouTube and you’ll see hundreds of thousands of videos and songs far worse (“worse” is relative, of course) than Rebecca Black’s. Few of them will ever be noticed; few will ever receive 166 million views and twice as many “dislikes”; few of them will be remembered a decade later and come up in conversation at a cocktail party.
This 13-year-old did absolutely nothing wrong—and as cliché as it is to say it, she was truly in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nonetheless, odds are that “Friday” is going tag along with Black this Friday, the Friday after next and the one ten years after that. Time will tell.
What does this have to do with our students?
Although Rebecca Black’s experience may be a bit of a hyperbolic way to segue into a conversation about our students’ digital footprint, her experience does give them reason to reflect on the marks they leave behind when they post pictures, comments and videos on the Internet.
Everything we do online leaves a trail; it may wind and evolve as we age, but it will always point back to us. Colleges and universities are increasingly reviewing this footprint when they decide who is going to be receiving a letter of acceptance. Employers, too, are beginning to conduct informal digital background checks on applicants before offering them a position. Showing up for the interview is the second impression, not the first. And thanks to our digital footprint, personas begin to take shape the moment our parents post photos of us as newborns.
A discussion that truly unpacks the impact of our digital footprint deserves a book. We simply wish to get the conversation started so that you can continue it with your students. If you’re looking for a way to get started, we recommend checking out a five-minute, TED-Talks episode featuring Juan Enriquez. In it, Enriquez uses insights from Greek and Latin American mythology to make sense of the surprisingly permanent effects of digital sharing on our personal privacy.