Snapchat. Vine. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Pinterest. Social media sites are everywhere, and used in prolific fashion by most college students. Some parents and families have jumped on the bandwagon, “friending” their children and their children’s friends to stay connected.
You may be surprised at some of the things posted by people in your social networks. And some of our students might be surprised to realize the things that others can see about them, or who might be looking at their profiles, pictures, or tweets. Even things that purport to be private, or anonymous, or that disappear after a specific amount of time, may not be so.
Students of this generation may not realize that things they post are public and could potentially be seen by a wide variety of people – including those they may not wish to share information about their personal lives. About a dozen years ago, we had a member of the Information Systems team talk to a group of parents about Facebook and privacy settings. This staff member showed a student’s Facebook page (with the student’s permission), illustrating that if a student does not select the highest privacy settings, it is possible that other people on campus – or the world at large – could see pictures of her sorority sisters in bikinis during Spring Break, or see status updates referring to underage drinking, sexual behavior, comments that are insensitive or hurtful to groups of people, etc.
Why does all this matter?
One of the ways that social media can impact students is when it comes to their job search. LinkedIn is a terrific resource (and one we recommend students begin using), it is not the only social media site that potential employers use to research job candidates. And this is where your students must exercise caution.
Safety Web has an Online Reputation Guide for College Students. The text and related links within this site show that recruiters and other influencers look at social media sites, and do reject some potential candidates based on what they saw. Your students still have three more years to build (or revise) their online profile and the image it projects. A teachable moment right now might be for you to begin that discussion of how to be intentional about what your student divulges online, and to whom – as it can have far-reaching implications later.
The Online Reputation Guide for College Students can be a solid resource for your student in considering his or her social media use and online image or brand. While some of these Do’s and Don’t’s seem obvious, the reality is that not all students know the etiquette and expectations of adults – particularly those in hiring positions.
A social networking Major Error in Judgment could cost your student the big job, or even a small job like babysitting or housesitting – or any other thing an adult might entrust a college student to do. It can also shape – in positive or negative ways – other peoples’ opinions about your student. That snarky Tumblr blog with risque or politically incorrect humor that seems so funny now could be shaping your student’s online brand. Or a nasty comment you make on a social media site – and then later delete or hide – could still show up because of powerful Internet search engines and be tied to a person forever.
Even things like emails or texts can have an alarming shelf life. Once those are shared with anyone else – even people your students think are friends – they can be turned back on the sender with bad consequences. A couple of times a year, a story goes around the internet about a student who was kicked out of his/her Greek organization for sending out an inflammatory email about behavior of the organization or expectations for parties. Your student does not want to be on the wrong end of that media firestorm. The best advice is NOT to hit “send” on those.
One final caution: the anonymity of the internet sometimes brings out the worst in us. When we don’t think we can ever be tied back to our comments – or when we are egged on by friends we want to impress – sometimes we can be callous, cruel, hurtful, inflammatory, and/or bullying online. It is easy to spread a rumor about someone or pick on them on one of these “anonymous” websites such as Yik Yak, but the result can be incredibly painful to the reader. We do not all have thick skin. Most of us want to be liked. And the idea of going online and Googling one’s name and finding a lot of anonymous trash talk can have unintended and disastrous consequences for the reader. It can be a terrible hit to self-esteem, and could lead into serious mental health consequences. Would your student want to live with the idea that they might have pushed someone over the edge by joining in on the ‘harmless fun’ that is picking on someone? Is that the kind of person any of us want to be?
Bottom line: social media can be a wonderful thing – and hope many of you are following our own site: Wake Forest Parents Facebook site or on Twitter at WFUParents. But we also want to be sure that parents and students are aware of how social media can impact students’ job searches, personal reputations, and impacts on other people. This might be a good topic to discuss at Spring Break or certainly this summer when your student is home.