Warning: Students, What You Post On Facebook Could Haunt You!

It happened again. In January, 2008, almost 100 students (!!!!) from one high school in Minnesota were suspended or kicked off of sports teams for photos that were posted on online websites like MySpace and Facebook that showed them drinking and partying. So, if you’ve been working hard to get into college– have busted your rear getting good grades, studied late at night for the SAT, polished and perfected your essay, and prepared for campus interviews-you’re not done just yet. Let’s talk about how NOT to let a stupid photo or two ruin your chances of getting in….or worse.

First, let’s talk about the dilemma: currently, it’s reported that up to 85 % of the students at any given school or college post to at least one of the major social websites, whether it’s MySpace, Facebook, Xanga, LiveJournal, or Friendster. And while some students believe that what they post there should be private, or should be to allow them to ‘express themselves’ and it shouldn’t matter to anyone else, the reality is that what you post online is public, and in some cases, permanent. And it does matter.

Think back to how many current celebrities like Vanessa Williams, Cameron Diaz, and untold American Idol contestants have had embarrassing photos resurface once they became famous.

Well, your college may be searching online for you, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Charles Samuelson, the Executive Director for the ACLU, was quoted as saying, “Anyone who thinks that something posted on a social website is private is an idiot. A student’s civil liberties are NOT being violated if a school or college uses such information to discipline a student or to make admission decisions.”

The good news is this: most colleges are not surfing the web for your profile. Admissions officers from both Stanford and MIT recently claimed that they were among those schools that did not look up students online. However, many schools do; and many potential employers will as well. According to a 2005 study by ExecuNet, 75% of head-hunters and recruiters use web research as part of their screening process. And more than one employee has been fired for what their employers found online.

Penn State even recently used a Facebook group called “I rushed the field after the OSU game (and lived!)” to charge two students with criminal trespassing. And the police busted an underage drinking party at George Washington University after they found the invitations online.
Further, even if you remove a page or post, it never really goes away. It can be saved on anyone’s computer, or on websites like Google and WayBackMachine which archive pages more or less forever.

So, let’s discuss some ground rules for posting on social websites, so nothing comes back to haunt you later. First, for safety’s sake, never post personal information like your address, your schedule, phone numbers or anything like that. Next, make your profile private so strangers can’t look you up, and be careful about allowing new ‘friends’ that you don’t know personally to access your website. Even if you are cautious, though, remember what I said above about nothing really being private.

Here is a great tip from Nicole Verardi about what you actually do post. She calls it the ‘Grandma Test’, which basically is if you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see it, then you don’t want other adults to see it either. Your grandma may not know how to use a computer, but more and more seniors are taking classes to help them learn; and you do NOT want to be responsible for giving your granny a heart attack, now, do you?

Also, be careful about what your friends post about you on their sites as well. If there is anything damaging, ask them to remove it ASAP. Lastly, be careful about the email address you use to communicate with a college or potential employer. Giving them an address like drunkenmonkey@aol.com or partygirl17@yahoo.com is not going to impress anyone.

So, I’m not trying to ruin your fun. I’m merely suggesting that you review your online websites and blogs for anything questionable or damaging before your submit a college application or resume. I don’t want to see all your hard work go to waste because of a few photos of you getting, well,….wasted.