Is your Facebook jeopardizing your future?

By Sammie Levin
Published: December 2009

With more than 350 million active users, Facebook has become the most popular social networking website. Facebook is a place where friends can interact and communicate, allowing people to showcase and document their every thought and action. Due to the controllable privacy settings that the site offers, users often regard their profiles as a safe, exclusive page, and therefore often do not think twice about which pictures and comments they post. People do not realize, however, how these mindless posts could drastically affect their lives. With heightening competition in the college admissions process, colleges have begun looking at Facebook profiles to find out more about applicants in order to narrow down their searches.

A 2008 survey of 500 top colleges found that 10 percent of admissions officers looked at social-networking sites as a form of evaluating applicants. 38 percent said that what they saw negatively affected their views of the applicant, such as photos involving drinking, drug use, and nudity, as well comments involving offensive language. In another study, Nora Ganim Barnes, director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, stated that using social-networking sites such as Facebook is “especially common when universities are awarding scholarships because it isn’t hard to go online for a handful of finalists…everybody is trying to protect their brands.

Aside from inspecting scholarship prospects, colleges may look at students’ profiles if their application raises concern. For example, North Carolina State University in Raleigh researched a student who stated on his application that he had been disciplined for fighting. The school then found a Facebook page with a picture of the applicant holding a gun, leading the school to reject the student.

Not only do college admission officers search Facebook profiles to gain more information, but job employers do as well. For example, A New York Times article reported on a recruiter Ana Homayoun who visited Duke University in order to interview a candidate for a job. Homayoun visited the candidate’s Facebook and found “explicit photographs and commentary about the student’s sexual escapades, drinking, and pot smoking, including testimonials from friends. Among the pictures were shots of the young woman passed out after drinking. Homayoun was “shocked by the amount of stuff that she was willing to publicly display. “When I saw that, I thought, ‘Ëœokay, so much for that,’ Homayoun said.

Though Facebook pages are helpful in showing the personality and life of a person, is it fair for colleges to use this information to determine acceptance?

Senior Zack Miller (known as “Milla Mush on the streets and on Facebook) finds this process to be unfair. “What positive information could they learn from a kid’s Facebook? This should not be a part of the process because a college admissions officer has enough information about applicants without stalking their Facebook profiles, Miller said. “There’s a creepy and sinister aspect in looking up applicants on Facebook and trying to find faults.

Senior Merry Berman offers an opposing viewpoint. “To be honest, I think it is a good idea for colleges to do this because if someone has stuff that shouldn’t be seen on their Facebook, it says something about them as a person, Berman said.

Junior Lena Warnke sees both sides, deciding that the trend is “both unfair and fair at the same time. “On one hand, Facebook is private, and whatever happens on it isn’t what applicants want the colleges to see, and in some ways I think that sort of infringes their right to privacy, Warnke said. “On the other hand, most people know that their Facebook profiles are inspected regularly, so they should take more care in how they present themselves on Facebook.

The bottom line is, Facebook users need to be conscious about what they choose to display on their profiles. As Scott Anderson, director of a private school in Tennessee, stated in a Wall Street Journal article, “when writing on Facebook¦students should be thinking, is this something you want your grandmother to see? So despite how cool you might look posing with that beer can at a party, consider untagging yourself because grandma might not be too happy to see it.

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