Facebook – What You Need to Know
John’s a typical student. He goes to class and scores decent grades. He’s heavily involved in a number of campus organizations and sports. John thinks of himself as a prankster and always manages to get a laugh out of his friends. And, like other college students, John has made his share of poor choices in college. So, when he posted his Facebook profile, he mixed some of his humor with some of his indiscretions, believing that only his friends would see it. And, after all, they know what type of guy he is. They’d obviously know that he’s joking. No harm could come. Right?
Wrong. While sites like Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, LiveJournal, and blogs are a great way to stay in touch with close friends and build your online presence, students across the country are being confronted with photos and information they’ve posted online. For some, it’s costing them jobs. Others have been arrested. And some are being stalked and harassed. Many students have had to face the consequences of a joke gone wrong or a momentary lapse in judgment. Before you have to face the consequences, take a moment to face the facts.
Just The Facts
FACT: Your control online is limited.
Just because you’ve tweaked your privacy settings doesn’t mean your online profile won’t come back to haunt you. A person who was once a friend may use your profile against you if the relationship goes awry. And, since these sites don’t use secure encryption, there’s a chance malicious software or ISPs can hijack the transmission of your profile and use it for harm.
FACT: “Delete” doesn’t mean, “disappear.”
Hitting the delete button doesn’t always solve the problem. You never know how many people have printed or saved your profile or pictures. Not to mention that many ISPs and servers back up or duplicate the information, retaining it indefinitely.
FACT: Predators LOVE the web.
Posting your cell phone number, apartment location, and class schedule online may seem like a great way to make sure your friends can reach you. However, there have been numerous cases of stalking and harassment that have originated from websites.
FACT: Employers are on Facebook.
Many companies look at online profiles of potential candidates before granting interviews. It has even been reported that some companies are paying students to print off profiles of other students (circumventing the privacy settings allowed by Facebook and other sites).
FACT: You’re responsible for you.
Just as you’re responsible for the content of your resume and your public persona, you’re ultimately responsible for your online profile. While you can’t control (with certainty) who sees your online presence, you can control whom that presence depicts. Also note that pictures “tagged by others” or messages posted on your wall can come back to haunt you.
Rules to Live By Online
If you wouldn’t post it on your front door, don’t post it online. Web transmissions aren’t foolproof unless they use secure forms of authentication and encryption. Posting something online is just as open and available to others as posting something on your door.
Use privacy settings to help control who can access your information. Many sites, including Facebook, allow you to restrict the availability of your profile to certain individuals. While these settings provide no guarantees, they can be a useful tool in gaining some control over your details and photos.
Your online profile may be the only impression someone has of you. While close friends may know you’re joking about something you’ve posted, another student, staff member, or faculty member who stumbles across your profile may have only that information to gauge who you are. Make sure the image you’re projecting online is one that accurately represents you. If your mom, your dad, your professors, or the university wouldn’t approve, think twice before posting it.
Civility matters (even on the Internet). The web is a great way to connect with others and sites like Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, and LiveJournal are great ways to join an ever-growing community. But remember that UT expects students to abide by the Honor Code, and that community extends into cyberspace. The rules of civility still apply on the web. Be respectful. Be honest. Be responsible.
Adapted with permission from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.