Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook are rapidly increasing in popularity among high school and college students as sites where they socialize with friends and post personal information, pictures and conversations. However, as they post everything from party photos to racy comments, other people are accessing the information. As the sites become a solid part of students culture and social lives, employers, administrators and even college admissions offices are taking note and logging in.
Admissions and employers
As a former college admissions employee, Nicole Schaub, Darlington Schools assistant dean of college guidance, said she finds it hard to believe admissions counselors would have time to look up every student applying to college. On the other hand, college admissions counselors usually are recent college graduates who likely would have the knowledge and tools to look up a potential applicant.
They do need to be aware this stuff (they post) is out there, she said. Anybody who wants to find out anything about them can just find it college admissions, job applicants, sexual predators and anybody else looking to cause them harm in some way.
Berry College sophomore Amanda Frisbee said she sometimes is shocked by the pictures and information posted. She has a Facebook account but said she wouldnt post anything she isnt comfortable with many people seeing.
Some of the pictures I see on my friends profiles, I think I would never put something like that up, she said.
Facebook is widespread at Berry College last fall, 1,600 of the schools 1,850 students were users, said Debbie Heida, vice president of student affairs and dean of students. She is researching and writing an article with Berrys chair of communication department Bob Frank on Facebook for student affairs professionals to raise awareness of the risks associated with the trend.
Online postings are not examined from an admission standpoint at Berry. However, students are cautioned that potential employers may be looking at them. The school also encourages visible students on campus, such as orientation leaders, to look at how they represent themselves and the school, she said.
Although users need a school e-mail address to view the profiles of other students when using Facebook, that shouldnt give them a false sense of security about postings. Students have no control of other students sharing passwords with non-students, Heida said.
Employers are getting an alumnus to look up so and so, and check into them, Frank said. Debbie and I are finding more and more evidence employers are looking into it. It is a gold mine for information the kid would never want an employer to know.
Shorter College also doesnt check out prospective students online, said John Head, vice president of enrollment management. He said the school respects their privacy and, quite frankly, doesnt have time to look up individual applicants.
However, Tod Keys, school safety coordinator of the Georgic Office of Homeland Security, said hes heard of students being rejected by colleges due to online postings through classes he teaches on Internet safety. The bottom line students need to be aware what they post online will follow them, he said.
Colleges and employers are now looking to see, Is this person the kind of person I want in my college or I want to employ? Keys said.
There are several legally punishable issues students should consider when posting on sites such as Facebook and MySpace, Frank said. Students have an expanded notion of their right to privacy on these sites, he said. They need to understand when entering these sites that they are checking their privacy rights at the log-in page.
Students have to understand they may have a constitutional right to privacy, but it doesnt apply in terms of Facebook, he said.
Parents, administrators and teachers can look at postings, and punishment is more than a threat its a reality. Students can libel fellow students or faculty members with derogatory postings and be liable for a libel or defamation lawsuit, Frank said.
Copyright is another issue he expects to eventually be pursued by entertainment industry lawyers on MySpace, which lets users download a whole song, Frank said.
But something already punished is hate speech, such as groups that hate so-and-so, he said. It hasnt been an issue at Berry, but students have been punished on other campuses for postings and groups related to hate speech.
Kids have been disciplined and even expelled, he said. Kids also like to have a lot of fun, but so many kids have been disciplined for having pictures of themselves drinking, opening up beer cans, and dont realize someone else might find out.
Even as a student, he is surprised by Facebook groups who say they drink on campus at Berry a dry campus, said freshman Andy DeLoach, who has profiles on both MySpace and Facebook. He said he is aware others can look at his posts. Thats why you dont put too much on there, he said.
Both Berry and Shorter said they take a hands-off approach to punishment based on postings. While the school is not going on to student sites to look for underage drinking or other rule violations, Head said, they would deal with something brought to their attention by another student.
While Berry also doesnt look for student postings, they have been factors in student discipline before, Heida said. While a Facebook or MySpace posting has never been the sole reason for disciplining a student, they have been considered as part of complaint being filed by another student.
Officials at both Rome City and Floyd County schools agreed with this hands-off form of online discipline. Rome High assistant principal Jamie Wallace said if a student brought a concern to them it would be investigated. However, officials likely would take action only if its something such as a terroristic threat toward someone at the school that the student could be arrested for outside of school, she said. It has never been an issue at the school before, she added.
It has not come up as an issue in the Floyd County schools that hes aware of, said spokesman Tim Hensley. However, a student or parent complaint related to an online posting would be investigated.
Weve discussed the different ramifications of that at the system level, Hensley said. About two years ago, we revised some of the policies related to student discipline, so students can be disciplined for things that happen outside of school grounds.
There have been a couple of incidents in the state in which students put threats on MySpace or other online Web logs, or blogs, and have been disciplined, Keys said.
When they put information online and there is the potential the information is harmful to someone, they can have disciplinary action against them, he said. It is a public domain Web site.
Students should be wary of more than disciplinary actions when posting. Sites such as Facebook offer spaces to fill in personal information including cell phone numbers and home addresses. They encourage students to be aware their postings can be viewed by people who intend them harm such as sexual predators, Schaub said.
Even posting things such as a class schedule could give possible stalkers an outline of a students entire day, Frank pointed out.
Keys said that in his Internet safety classes he reminds students to think about what www stands for when posting things online World Wide Web.
When students put their information out there, they think its just for friends, and its not, he said. Its out there for everybody, and this is where predators are going to get that information. Do not put anything on that space or that blog that you would not put on a billboard on a main highway, because everyone can see it as easily as that.