Your personal Web site got 250 views last week -- and one of them was your college admissions officer. Oops. Last weekend's party photos suddenly don't seem so appropriate on the Internet anymore, do they?
Though it may not seem quite ethical for college admissions counselors to snoop around the Internet, they are technically not doing anything wrong. The Internet is public domain and unless protected otherwise, anything posted is free for all to see. Whether or not the information they find can be used in their admission decision-making is debatable, but they can and they have.
According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, one applicant of an unspecified university was denied admission in part because of hostile comments made on his blog about officials at that school. In Maryland a high school freshman was purportedly suspended because of online photos he was in, a suspension he may later have to report in his college applications.
So once you get to college you should be off the hook, right?
At Penn State University, campus police used a Facebook group called "I rushed the field after the OSU game (and lived!)" to identify and prosecute fans who, at an October 2005 game, did just as the group proclaimed. Two Louisiana State swimmers were kicked off their team last spring for posting negative comments about their coaches on the Internet and a student at the University of Oklahoma was investigated (although not prosecuted) by the Secret Service for posting a comment perceived as a threat on the life of President Bush in a Facebook group called “Bush Sucks.”
In light of these and growing instances, high schools, youth groups and universities alike have taken action against social networking and blogging sites.
Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., no longer allows students to use their school e-mail addresses to register for Facebook. Students at O'Fallon Township High School in St. Louis, Mo, can have their Internet privileges revoked for a semester if caught accessing sites such as Facebook or MySpace.com. Student leaders of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) have created OurSpace, an initiative designed to encourage ethical blogging. Officials at Kent State University required all their athletes to remove their profiles from Facebook while other universities such as Virginia Commonwealth University have simply integrated online safety into new student orientations.
This is not to say that you should swear off using these sites all together. You just have to be smart about the information you make available for the entire world to see.
Some things to remember:
Don’t post personal information such as addresses, phone numbers etc. You can even protect yourself further by posting only part of your name such as your first name and last initial.
If available, create privacy settings for your blog or Internet profile so that only pre-approved people have access.
Don’t post photos or videos of you or your friends engaging in illegal or questionable behavior such as drinking, vandalizing, trespassing etc.
Monitor comments or messages made on your blog or profile and report posts that are inappropriate or make you feel uncomfortable.
But of course, as the old saying goes: When in doubt, throw it out. Or in this case, keep it to yourself.