How Perfect Should our Digital Footprint Be? : Forgiveness in the Internet Age

Written by Sequoia Abbott-Saulteaux

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

One thing that I have struggled with in my upcoming career is my digital footprint. I used to just think that as long as I “locked” everything up, privatizing my social media and removing them from search engine pages, that I would never have to worry about what I posted online. Of course, I am not saying that I have anything worth necessarily hiding online, just that I first made my Facebook at around twelve years old and have a lot of old, embarrassing pictures and statuses. After some years of becoming more and more private, I finally decided to download majority of my pictures and then delete them from Facebook. I mean, if anyone actually wanted one they could just ask me right?

It was only after I joined an 300 level Educational Technology class that I realized that maybe having no digital footprint isn’t necessarily the best thing. Maybe instead of hiding, we could instead embrace this new technological society and try to make some positive changes. One article that has really helped me gain perspective is Split Image by Kate Fagan which is about a talented student athlete whose online appearance did not match her real life. Maddison Holleran was a beautiful, troubled young women who became more isolated from her family and friends after joining the track team at a new school. She struggled with an image of perfection, that was shown on her Instagram page which was perfectly tailored to fit a happy image. After struggling with her mental health, she unfortunately lost the battle and died by suicide just hours after posting an inspirational quote on Instagram and having a friendly conversation with a past coach. The article really made me reflect on my relationship with online social media sites and question how we can make things better for our younger generations.

It reminds me of when I was in High School, posting selfies to Instagram and then deleting them after a few hours if they didn’t get a certain amount of likes. It reminded me of how I felt anxiety if I wasn’t posting enough, or being out with friends and thinking about how this would be a great opportunity to post. There is a certain pressure online of how we should look, act, and behave that is much different than the everyday pressure a young person faces. I think that as educators, it should be our responsibility to remind our students that everything online is not always what it seems. You can have a perfect profile, with smiling selfies and group pictures, but that does not mean it equals a perfect life. In that same aspect, should perfection be something that we as a society, should be striving towards online?

Madison Holleran Photo’s from Split Image by Kate Fagan

The idea of letting go of being perfect also means forgiving others, and ourselves, for making mistakes. As an Educator, I’ve started to look as mistakes more and more as stepping stones to learning. As long as the person who made the mistake is willing to learn, than maybe we should we more willing to forgive them and show them grace.

Jon Ronson introduces to an example of the damage of not forgiving online in his TED Talk titled “How One Tweet Can Ruin Your Life“. In 2015, Justine Sacco, a senior director of corporate communications, boarded an airplane to South Africa to visit family. During her travels she decided to tweet a few, what she claims were satirical jokes, including one that started trending on Twitter while she peacefully slept with her phone off on her 11 hour flight:

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

Stacco claims that her original joke was “a reflective critique on white privilege”. I would argue that even if her joke was offensive, there are better ways of teaching her that than what happened next. Justine was fired, started trending on Twitter, and received tens of thousands of angry tweets as everyone joined together in her downfall. Her life was affected for years as she experienced torment and shaming that added to mental health issues and PTSD. She woke up in the night for years afterwards, forgetting who she was. On places like Twitter, and really any social media site, I think that it is very easy to judge others, especially when our online personalities are curated to look perfect. The fact of the matter though, is we all make mistakes. In joining the twitter fire, are we not losing out on the original morality that we claimed in the first place? I think that we need to move away from encouraging ourselves to tear others down in an attempt to right wrongs and instead lend some compassion to teach the right way.

“Our desire to be compassionate had led us to to commit this profoundly compassionate act”

Jon Ronson, How One Tweet Can Ruin Your Life

What I have learned most is that digital footprints can be tricky things to navigate. Do I want to put forward a perfect, professionally curated profile? Or one that teaches others that its okay to make mistakes? What about one where I am open to learning and growing, somewhere in between.

Do you think that we should be practicing more forgiveness online? Why, or why not?

Watch the full YouTube Video below!



  1. Sequoia, your words are so beautifully strong, and fiercely poetic:

    “As an Educator, I’ve started to look as mistakes more and more as stepping stones to learning. As long as the person who made the mistake is willing to learn, than maybe we should we more willing to forgive them and show them grace” .

    I am so impressed with your stance and your personal growth as an educator, and as a perfectly imperfect human being. You glow with inspiring and radiating presence in my opinion. I think your students will feel this and see this in you also. 🌸 Well done!


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