File photo.

Johannesburg - Don’t think you can surf the internet, click on something and then log off without leaving a mark. There’s always something that’ll show which website, which page you’ve been on.

It’s called your digital footprint – a collection and reflection of your online trails and habits.

Although digitally savvy teenagers may care little about this, it could be a deal-breaker when they’re older and trying to crack it in the job market.

This was the warning by Google SA’s Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, who spoke to high school pupils in Joburg this week as part of an awareness campaign for Safer Internet Day (SID).

SID is celebrated by 90 countries on the second day of the second week of the second month, under a different theme every year. This year’s was “Let’s create a better internet together”.

Organisations like Google, Mxit, the Film and Publications Board, Childline SA, the UN International Emergency Children’s Fund (Unicef) South Africa and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, and others, were gathered at Jules High School in Jeppestown this week.

They were there to speak to pupils from several schools in the surrounding areas about how to use the internet optimally and safely.

Jules High School made headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2010 when a 15-year-old schoolgirl and two boys, aged 14 and 16, were caught having sex on the school grounds. The encounter was captured on cellphones by other pupils and spread online like wildfire.

Initially, it was claimed that the girl was gang-raped and her family laid charges of rape against the two boys.

It was alleged that the boys had given her a spiked drink and forced themselves on her.

Investigations, however, revealed that the sex had been consensual and the trio were charged with consensual sexual penetration (statutory rape).

The charges were later withdrawn and instead of going through a trial and possibly having their names on the National Register for Sex Offenders, the teenagers were ordered to take part in a diversion programme co-ordinated by the Teddy Bear Clinic.

Sibanda said pupils must be aware of spreading such material as the simple act of forwarding it to a friend could lead to the sender being criminally charged for being in possession of and distributing pornographic material.

“As a child you don’t want that to be linked with you,” he said.

The pupils were also given pointers on cyber bullying and how to report untoward material they may come across online.

Parents and teachers were also given tips on child-safe software and what tools they can use to ensure children use the internet safely.

The initiative was supported by Gauteng Education MEC Barbara Creecy, who said: “The internet has transformed how children and young people communicate and socialise. It provides a range of opportunities for young people in terms of communicating, entertainment, information and creating content. However, it also has some inherent risks.” - The Star