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Digital footprint or damaging footprint?

Written By Bunny Lytle

Regardless of when you were born, and whether social media has been part of your life since adolescence or a more recent addition, it is pretty much impossible to keep your data off the internet. Although there are ways of limiting your digital footprint, the majority of us are aware that once you post a photo, tweet a thought, or blast an email, you are giving up full possession of the data that once was your own. Despite our understanding of this, I wonder how conscious of this we are as we comment on another Instagram or Snapchat?

In June 2000, Samsung manufactured the first camera phone, capable of taking only 20 photos, a concept entirely bizarre to many of us nowadays, owning smartphones with endless storage. By 2003, camera phones were taking off in the US and over eighty million had already been sold worldwide. As demand increased, the quality was rising, and prices were dropping. And for us, the ease of sharing photos became simpler.

The ability to take and share photos with such ease is a habit many of us indulge on a daily basis, possibly not pausing to consider the implications of what we are posting. You wake up from a night out and almost without thinking upload your images. Without wanting to take the fun out of our collective innate passion for photography, perhaps we should consider that there is real risk to this.

In the ‘cancel culture’ climate that we live in today, the concept that one Facebook post you made age 13 is just waiting to bite future you at any moment is alarming. Perhaps thinking about this even takes the enjoyment out of sharing your photos. I certainly find myself thinking twice before posting images on Instagram, in a way I didn’t a couple of years ago. I suspect most of us are increasingly waking up to the pitfalls of sharing our images so frivolously online.

It may feel extreme, but there is a link to the current Ghislaine Maxwell sex trafficking court case: the US attorney’s office released nineteen intimate images of the sixty-year-old and her late partner, the infamous Jeffery Epstein. These pictures were never intended for general circulation, but they have provoked a media storm. It is apparently no surprise to anyone who knew them that the pair had a close relationship, but these pictures inflamed further opprobrium.

Amongst the many horrified reactions, one notable response was, “who next?” Some pictures have already emerged, but there are rumoured to be images that are still yet to be unveiled of their high-profile friends, adding to the likes of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson with Maxwell, and ex-US presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton.

For Clinton, who became the second ever president to be impeached, in his case regarding sexual allegations, the release of such pictures would do further damage to his already tarnished legacy. Not to mention the ripple effect on his wife, Hillary, an advocate for women’s empowerment and ‘girls supporting girls.’

Despite the fact that many people attribute Prince Andrew’s forfeiting of his royal responsibilities to his PR disaster of an interview with Emily Maitlis in November 2019, in my opinion the photograph of the prince and accuser Virginia Giuffre had a greater long-term impact in his eventual demise. The infamous photo thought to be taken in Maxwell’s Mayfair home, shows Andrew with his arm around Giuffre, believed to be aged 17 at the time, while Maxwell stands behind them. In 2011, journalist Michael Thomas copied the photo for the first time, convinced that it was genuine as he found it in the middle of a bundle of photographs. Prince Andrew continues to maintain it is a fake: that he had ‘no recollection’ of meeting Giuffre, claiming he is ‘not one to hug’ or ‘display affection’ in public. Of course, it is a big step up from a photograph to sleeping together. Nevertheless, with his persistent denial of ever meeting Giuffre, something that now appears to be false, it is much easier to speculate that he has in fact lied in other circumstances.

Some of you may have spotted that this image predates the internet and certainly social media did not exist at the time of the apparent photo, but neither did it at the time of the famous ‘60s headless man scandal, recently captured in the BBC’s A Very British Scandal. Nonetheless, the image in question undermined any arguments that the Duchess of Argyle tried to make of innocence in her affair. Thankfully the values of 1963 have largely faded, however it leaves us with a burning question. Is there a risk that any of our images could come back to haunt us in a job interview, with a future partner or with our own parents?

It’s brilliant to capture so much of what we all do and curate that perfect life online, but there is real risk to some of the images and this could be the year to be more careful.

*Perspectives claim no rights to this photo. All rights go to original owners


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