Friday, September 08, 2006

Colleges orient students on the risks in misusing social networking sites


First, I’ll share the location of my own myspace profile. http://www.myspace.com/jboushka It’s pretty barren and “conservative” but I am trying to make a point.

On September 6 and 7, 2006, NBC4 (in Washington DC) reported at least three times that many colleges in the area are briefing students, especially incoming freshmen, on the dangers of misusing social networking sites like myspace.com and facebook.com.

College administrators at several schools, such as George Mason University, VPI, and Virginia Commonwealth University, provided sobering orientations on the recent string of serious incidents resulting from students making inappropriate postings. The risks have included attracting stalkers or persons with hostile intentions, to (more seriously) self-incrimination (for drug use or underage drinking) sometimes resulting in police prosecutions. Employers have been looking at social networking site profiles of job applicants, and college and school administrators sometimes review them when looking for discipline problems.

There has been controversy over employer practice, and just how extensive it is. Employers say they are more concerned about flagrantly anti-social behavior or illegal behavior (such as underage alcohol use) than political or religious attitudes, or even sexual orientation. Nevertheless, some of us are concerned that employers could use personal blogs and social networking profiles as a test for social conformity or job suitability, especially for jobs with a higher public profile. Social networking sites usually allow their subscribers to restrict the range of persons who can see the profiles (facebook restricts access to those with .edu addresses), yet employers have sometimes demanded to see the profiles, or have managed to see the profiles “under the table.” Employers will also look at personal blogs and websites like this one (which they can find through search engines) but so far have acted somewhat less concerned about them than they are about social networking sites.

I asked one major employer, an insurance company in the DC area, about this when attending a job fair about tech jobs in May 2006, and the company said it was not particularly concerned about personal sites unless there was a specific issue known already.

There have been recent stories in Newsweek (Brad Stone, Aug. 28, 2006) and the Washington Times (Jacqueline Palank, July 17, 2006), to which I replied with an LTE.

On Sept. 7, 2006, The Washington Post, Susan Kinzie and Yugi Noguchi presented a story, "In Online Social Club, Sharing Is the Point Until It Goes Too Far, where Facebook has taken some personal profile changes and made them into "newsfeeds" although the company maintains this is with customer consent.

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