The Dangers of Facebook

Only recently have I started worrying about the possible abuses of personal Web activity by (potential) employers. Before, I’d worried about employers’ tracking of employees’ activities on workplace computers, but after recent discussions with my parents and friends and reading “In Your Facebook.com” in today’s New York Times, my worries about employers using (potential) employees’ Web activities against them have been piqued.

The New York Times article begins with the experiences of George Washington University students whose party planning on Facebook.comwas monitored by campus police:

As far as Kyle Stoneman is concerned, the campus police were the ones who started the Facebook wars. “We were just being, well, college students, and they used it against us,” says Mr. Stoneman, a senior at George Washington University in Washington. He is convinced that the campus security force got wind of a party he and some buddies were planning last year by monitoring Facebook.com, the phenomenally popular college networking site. The officers waited till the shindig was in full swing, Mr. Stoneman grouses, then shut it down on discovering under-age drinking.Mr. Stoneman and his friends decided to fight back. Their weapon of choice? Facebook, of course.

Once again they used the site, which is visited by more than 80 percent of the student body, to chat up a beer blast. But this time, when the campus police showed up, they found 40 students and a table of cake and cookies, all decorated with the word “beer.” “We even set up a cake-pong table,” a twist on the beer-pong drinking game, he says. “The look on the faces of the cops was priceless.” As the coup de grâce, he posted photographs of the party on Facebook, including a portrait of one nonplussed officer.

But the story quickly moves in to employers using the site to vet job candidates:

But parents and administrators have another worry: that potential employers are wangling themselves e-mail addresses ending with edu – perhaps someone in the office was given one by his alma mater or has signed up for an extension course at a college with Facebook access – so that they can vet job applicants. Administrators at both N.Y.U. and Brandeis say on-campus employers use the site for just that purpose. Aware that many students post pictures and descriptions of their X-rated, booze-soaked exploits, administrators at Tufts and Texas Christian University began offering seminars in Facebook propriety last year.

And not only are employers using information gleaned from the Web, but so are universities:

Other colleges are even more aggressive. A student at Fisher College in Boston was expelled last year for his online criticism of a campus security officer. Officials at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said they would discipline students living on campus who posted information or photographs on their profiles that involved illegal activity like under-age drinking. At North Carolina State, residential advisers, the upperclassmen who oversee dorm life, wrote up 15 students seen consuming alcohol in photos on Facebook; it caused an uproar and resulted in a town-hall-style meeting.Campus officials are not the only ones trawling for miscreants: the Secret Service investigated a student at the University of Oklahoma who posted a comment on Facebook about assassinating the president.

It’s frightening to think about the possible implications of so much personal information being available on the Internet. Beyond identity theft and other criminal activities, legitimate businesses — the U.S. goverment included — increasingly use information posted on the Web to incriminate — and stigmatize — people for youthful indiscretions.

The message is: Be careful what you post.

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