Sure, 1984 was 23 years ago, but Big Brother’s still alive and well. Potential employers, job recruiters, and school administrators can mine the Internet — specifically Facebook — to find out “personal” things you’d never tell them. Simply stated, what you do today while goofing off online can come back to bite you on the ass — perhaps in national headlines if you’re a beauty queen or politician’s relative.
In October 2005, the University of Central Florida charged one of its undergrads with harassment after he started a Facebook group that described a student government candidate as “a jerk and a fool.” The student won his appeal after citing his First Amendment rights.
In February 2006, four Syracuse University students were disciplined for starting a Facebook group claiming their teaching assistant “doesn’t know what she’s doing . . . ever.”
Students at Northern Kentucky University and North Carolina State, among other schools, have been busted for underage drinking as the result of photo evidence posted voluntarily on Facebook. The same thing happened to some students from Pentucket High School in West Newbury this past May. Then there’s 17-year-old Caroline Giuliani, who created a media firestorm when she posted her presidential preference for Barack Obama over dear ol’ dad Rudy.
New England’s universities have responded to the boom in high-profile Facebook scandals with student-awareness campaigns. The University of Maine offers tips for online conduct on its student-life Web site (umaine.edu/studentaffairs/facebook.asp), and both UMaine and Boston University address Facebook in their freshman orientations. BU’s dean of students, Kenneth Elmore, has even discussed it with students at his “Coffee and Conversation” series.
“From our perspective,” says Colin Riley, director of media relations for Boston University, “it’s important that students look critically at their pages to keep their information private and not become targets for people who want to take their information and use it.”
Riley says that BU officials do not monitor Facebook, though they may look into a matter if it is brought to their attention by a student or faculty member. “We have a code of student responsibilities and that essentially explains how we expect all of our students to conduct themselves with respect for others and themselves,” said Riley. “The guiding principle should be good judgment.”
David Fiacco, director of judicial affairs at the University of Maine in Orono, says that, unlike some institutions, UMaine doesn’t take disciplinary action based on pictures posted on Facebook. It also doesn’t monitor the site. Instead of punishing a student whose Facebook transgressions are brought to the school’s attention, Fiacco meets with him or her to explain the possible real-world consequences of online behavior — his major concern being the negative impact questionable material could have on a student’s job search after graduation.
This past summer, accounting giant Ernst & Young launched the first Facebook group dedicated to employee recruitment. It now boasts 9190 members. While the Ernst & Young Careers group states that its moderators do not have (or want) access to the students’ profile information, other, smaller companies that have followed Ernst & Young’s lead don’t echo that statement in their own Facebook profiles.
According to John McGrath, director of career services for seniors at Providence College, financial, health-care, and pharmaceutical companies are the most likely to screen potential employees’ Facebook profiles for discretion, good judgment, and a responsible lifestyle.
“Ethical norms matter in certain industries, and really matter in others,” says McGrath. “They certainly don’t want young people who are indiscreet.”
To these employers, just one Facebook slip-up may be enough to cancel out your résumé.
“Students can be weird about what they reveal,” says McGrath, mentioning the graduating Yale student who sent an inspirational video of himself, entitled “Impossible is Nothing,” to Wall Street investment firms, only to become another YouTube casualty. “As you near the job search, clean up your Facebook,” McGrath says. “(But) be yourself on the whole.”
Facebook dos and don’ts
DO use your profile to show the person you are during the week, not just who you are on Friday nights. Providence College’s McGrath suggests adding your community-service record and work experience to your Facebook profile to catch the eye of employers and recruiters. “Don't hesitate to mention that you just finished an exhaustive research paper and it felt good to complete it,” he advises. “Talk about how you enjoy these achievements.” Just don't overdo it — your personality should still shine through.
DON’T post incriminating photos of yourself — no matter how funny they seem at the time. Good (bad) examples include pictures depicting or implying illegal behavior, sex, nudity, or recklessness. “You can project fun, there’s nothing wrong with that, but there should be no mention of drugs, excessive partying, or drinking underage,” McGrath cautions. While your friends may admire you for that photo capturing your first keg-stand freshman year, potential employers probably won’t see it the same way.