Creating positive profiles online

Ken Corish discusses why digital citizenship is crucial for young people and outlines how schools can help in developing best practice

With more and more children interacting with technology and the internet at an early age, ensuring that they present themselves in a safe and sensible manner is very important. Social media profiles are a big factor in children’s internet use, so teaching the ins and outs of using these sites well is becoming increasingly vital.

Online presence is becoming increasingly important in the way we interact with the world. Social media profiles and online activity are a statement of a person and their personality, and choices made online are open to judgement by all and will affect their reputation with family, friends and even potential employers.

Children and young people may not fully understand the implications of the way they behave online. Although the right to be forgotten will help to reduce the consequences of mistakes made in the past, pupils should be made aware of the fact that their behaviour is public and may negatively affect their reputation with people offline. Moral and ethical themes should therefore be combined into any online safety instruction. 

Privacy management

Although privacy measures are only a small part of managing online presence, they can be very useful in the prevention of data “bleeding” into the public eye. Ask pupils to consider who is viewing their profiles online: just friends and family, an extended network with friends of friends, or absolutely everyone? Platforms like Facebook will allow users to limit the content seen by different groups of people and even display exactly what they have access to. This can then be subdivided further to create groups or circles in order to manage content more carefully, for example, sharing particular photos or information only with a list of “close friends”. 

Context and behaviour

Deciding what you want to say and who you want to say it to can help to determine the most appropriate platform. Separating conversations and sharing in this way won’t prevent people from finding it in a name search, but it will show a boundary between personal and “professional” conduct online.

To become a valued member of the online community, young people should promote positive traits. These include being a voice of reason in any online conflicts, not taking part in “flaming” or “trolling” (the act of inspiring hateful conversations online), and being an active member of the group, providing valuable and positive content.

‘Encourage pupils to create a “front page” for their online presence, such as a blog or Twitter feed featuring solely positive content, that will become the first thing people find when they search for that student’s name’

Encourage pupils to create a “front page” for their online presence, such as a blog or Twitter feed featuring solely positive content, that will become the first thing people find when they search for that student’s name. This will push any older, negative material further down the search results and present the best possible attitude to the world. Creating a LinkedIn page either at secondary school or college will help students to begin a positive working persona, which explains them clearly and plainly.

Negative content can and should be challenged. Make sure that pupils know the appropriate reporting routes for each platform so that they can request inappropriate material to be removed by the poster or platform provider. They should also be aware of the procedure for deactivating and deleting their social media accounts when they stop using them.

These considerations are all part of digital literacy, the ability to process information seen online and to react appropriately, as well as forming and publishing one’s own ideas and opinions. By inspiring this in the minds of young people, they will develop into model digital citizens able to navigate the multitude of online content and social media platforms sensibly and safely.

Ken Corish is online safety manager at SWGfL and the UK Safer Internet Centre.

To order SWGfL’s free Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram checklists, please visit or for more information on the digital literacy project, go to