Students increasingly advised to beware of Facebook

Employers using alumni accounts to check applicants

POSTED AT 12:00 AM ON Feb. 15, 2006 


Facebook members' friends might not be the only ones interested in their profiles.

The popular Web site encourages interaction between students by allowing them to share information and photos with each other. But a new audience for Facebook profiles is developing that can include University faculty, alumni, potential employers and even complete strangers.

Susie Clark, director of Undergraduate Career Services at the Kelley School of Business, said that employers can use the Facebook as a tool in hiring applicants and as a means of distinguishing between candidates.

"As more students are graduating, now they have another tool to learn more about that individual," she said. "If one applicant looks squeaky clean and one looks controversial, it can definitely have an impact."

Associate Dean of Students Pam Freeman also warned that a student's profile might be scrutinized at an even earlier stage in the application process.

"I've even heard of people looking at a Facebook profile before writing a letter of recommendation," she said. "It could prevent a very embarrassing situation for them."

The Facebook exploded in popularity after its February 2004 launch and has since sucked in about 85 percent of college students across the country, according to the Web site.

Clark said that the more irresponsible students appear in the profile, the less likely they are to be hired. Citing some of the most popular groups at IU like "Screw Class Let's Get Drunk" with more than 3,000 members, and "Procrastinators United" with nearly 4,000, she said some students should consider if their profile is a good reflection of themselves.

"Now we're advising students to think about anything, including photos or controversial groups they belong to. Just like the way you dress, it's like an appearance, a way of expressing yourself," she said.

She said employers often use an alumnus's ".edu" e-mail address, which can be kept for a short time after graduation, to log into Facebook.

"It's just something students need to be aware of," Clark said. "We are warning students."

Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, a professor of labor and employment law, said he doesn't see any legal implications of employers checking Facebook profiles.

"If they look to see if a person is black and not hire them if they're black, then of course that's prohibited. But pretty much an employer can do anything not expressly prohibited by law," he said.

Unlawful discrimination includes things like race, religion and gender -- not irresponsibility.

"As a general rule, if a person appears irresponsible, there is nothing wrong with not hiring them," Dau-Schmidt said.

Sophomore Brandon Gage said the idea of a potential employer checking his profile doesn't bother him, and that students should use common sense on Facebook.

"If there's certain information you don't want people to see, then you shouldn't put it on there," he said. "If people find what you put up, it's your own fault: It's the Internet."

And this ease of accessibility can even become a safety issue.

Freeman said students should also be careful of the amount of private information they include in their profiles. She said campuses across the country have seen incidents of stalking connected to Facebook profiles.

"It's helpful to think, is this information I want to be shared?" she said.

She said that too often students think of Facebook as a space to interact with their friends without realizing thousands of people they don't know can see their profile as well. She warns against sharing revealing information, such as specific plans, class schedules, phone numbers and addresses.

Facebook users can control who sees their information through the "My Privacy" section of the Web site. The default settings allow anyone from any school to search for a student's name, and they allow anyone at their own school to view their profile. However, users can restrict some people from viewing their information, including other students, faculty, staff or alumni by changing the settings.

So far, students don't have to worry about getting in trouble with IU for the content of their profiles.

Although activities such as on-campus alcohol consumption violate the IU Code of Conduct, Freeman said it is unlikely that students would be reprimanded solely for the content of their Facebook profiles.

"It's not our intent to go on a witch hunt on Facebook. Some deans of students at other campuses are doing it, so it's not unheard of. But we are not monitoring students," she said.

Freeman said instead of thinking of it as a way to track down troublemakers, students should think of their profiles as a potential form of evidence.

"If we got a complaint, and someone pointed us to Facebook, then we couldn't ignore that," she said.

Freeman said students need to be careful about the information they share, and that it's easy to forget the Facebook is a very public place.

"What's cute and fun now could have future ramifications," she said. "Ask yourself: Is this the person you truly want to be seen as?"


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