Recently, iKeepSafe and Reputation Defenders teamed-up to address the topic of online reputations -- your child's, or your own.  Here a are a few Q&A tips that can be helpful.     

Q:  At what age is it appropriate for a child to have an online profile such as MySpace or Facebook?

A:  Certainly not younger than 14 for MySpace and 13 for Facebook, as that is the minimum age that those two websites require for admittance.  If parents have an 11 year-old or a 12 year-old who purports to have a MySpace or a Facebook account, they have been able to create that account by falsifying their birthday.  In addition, those minimum age requirements should be viewed as guidelines; not every 13 or 14 year-old has the personal responsibility or accountability necessary for safety on the Internet.  Parents need to talk to their pre-teens about what websites they spend their time on and should also actively monitor their pre-teen's name and likeness on the Internet.  That is a great way to provide parental oversight to online activity.

Q: What is a "digital footprint?"

A:    Simply put, a digital footprint is the amount of content, whether it be words, photographs, audio, or video, that is traceable back to a given individual.  Parts of your digital footprint include photographs uploaded to sites like flikr, blog posts attributed to you on Blogger, video files you uploaded to YouTube, posts you wrote on your friends' Facebook Walls, and posts to your Facebook wall by your friends.  Content like this makes up your digital footprint.  Two things are most notable about the Digital Footprint - first, like all information on the Internet, it can be permanent; second, more and more of us have begun to actively search out the digital footprint of our peers and are influenced by what we find, both in opinion and in action.

Q:  Who looks at this? 

A:  One out of every two people in your life are looking at your digital footprint and the footprint of others!  Pew Internet recently found that 53% of adults have used the Internet to search for information about other people in their lives!  
Employers are a fantastic example of this behavior.  A recent CareerBuilder study found that 26% of all hiring managers use search engines to research the digital footprint of potential applicants and a staggering 50% of recruiters for college graduate jobs exhibited the same behavior.   63% of hiring managers admitted that what they found about applicants on social networks, to use one media type, caused them to not make an offer to applicants.  
College admission is another way in which a digital footprint can adversely affect a young person.  A recent study by the University of Massachusetts' Center for Market Research found that  26% of college admission offices use search engines to research applicants and 21% search for information about applicants on social networks.  Of course, what information these offices find inform their admissions decisions.

Q:  What is a "reputation defender?" 

A:  A reputation defender is someone who works for ReputationDefender, a company that has done pioneering work in the online reputation management space.  They do three primary things - find every piece of content that comprises the digital footprint of an individual, work to get unwanted or inaccurate content removed from the Internet so that it's not damaging to the individual, and enable individuals to gain greater control of how their digital footprint looks to search engines when their peers search for them.

Q:  If someone post a slanderous profile of me or my child  on the Internet, how can I both delete it publicly, but also preserve it as evidence for legal action?  

A:  This is a great question.  First, take a screen shot of the profile, using Microsoft Windows utilities or by using the Grab application if you use a Mac.  Then, continue to work toward the removal of this slanderous profile once you have saved and backed-up the screenshot, either by contacting the site that houses that profile or by working with a company that does this sort of thing professionally.  

Q:  What should I know about "digital footprints" and online reputations?

A:  It's highly important that everyone start to get firm understanding of their own digital footprint and that of their children.  Set aside the time necessary to do extensive searches of yourself and your children, understand the context of the content you find, and make sure that none of this information is inaccurate or hurtful to you or your family in any way.  It's a time commitment, to be sure, but absolutely necessary.  There are companies that exist that can take much of this off your plate, should you not have the time to do it on your own.  However, it's a great opportunity, either way, to open up a dialogue with your spouse or child on the importance of their digital footprint and how to keep it positive!