A recent feature ran in The Arbiter titled, “Shared: What does your Facebook page say about you?,” in which Arbiter staffers demonstrated the relatively small amount of effort needed to find out extensive personal details about a randomly selected individual via their Facebook account.
What students may not have considered is the number of individuals who may be doing the exact same thing to their personal
Lisa Harris, Ph. D., vice president for student affairs, said, “Students should definitely be aware of it,” in reference to employers looking at social media sites.
But scrutiny of social media doesn’t begin and end with employment.
Other students, professors, parents and, yes, potential employers will look at social media sites and in some cases this can have consequences for the account holders.
At Boise State there is no overarching social media policy. For accounts affiliated with the university there are guidelines put in place by the office of communication and marketing called, Social networking: A guide to best practices at Boise State University, but for student use of personal accounts students really have to rely on common sense and when in doubt can refer back to the Student Code of Conduct.
“There are larger policy and rules pertaining to say harassment where there’s formal training and for students there’s the Student Code of Conduct, but that’s your conduct in general,” said Dean of Students Chris Wuthrich. “For student tweets and texts, if they violate the Code of Student Conduct, (they) can be used for investigation purposed and sanction purposes. And has that happened? It’s probably happened every semester in one form or another.”
The Student Code of Conduct outlines specific values espoused by the university and makes it very clear discrimination, harassment, threats or intimidation will not be tolerated. Although it is not specifically stated, it can be inferred this Code applies to all student behavior, including social media use.
There aren’t individuals at the university level tasked with monitoring student, faculty and staff accounts, but that doesn’t mean issues don’t still arise based on social media posts.
“I will tell you that, in my interactions with student leaders, if something comes to my ears and they do from time to time, I will have individual private conversations with student leaders about the issues and about the education pieces for our students,” Harris said. “But those are informal, those are not charged. I do it because I’m trying to teach and I’m trying to make sure our students are protected and that our students are making wise decisions for themselves and others and for their student organizations.”
Harris emphasized wanting to educate students over any kind of punishment practice, but in some cases further steps must be taken, depending on the infraction. If the situation deems it necessary, the Office of the Dean of Students will have to step in.
“In general no one is out surveying anyone’s behavior, so until anyone complains we wouldn’t know about an incident, and people do complain about things, and that’s when we have an educational process. We talk with the student, and if it’s been something that did violate our student code of conduct we would have a process to work with the student around,” Wuthrich said. “(For example) if you’re doing things on Twitter that are offensive, harassing that violated our student code of conduct, we learn of it and if there’s a complaint we would look at it and consider processing it through our system and students generally receive educational sanctions; reflection papers, sometimes we do mediation sessions, we do restorative justice sessions with students.”
At the university level, Harris and Wuthrich made it clear education is their goal, but in other instances employers or potential employers may not be so
Mary Francis Casper, Ph.D., associate professor of communication, public relations certificate program director and PRSSA adviser, said employers can and will look at social media profiles. She added, these employers are looking for anything that would indicate a student is trouble and are interested in someone who would represent their company well.
Casper mentioned as a professor at Boise State, Facebook presents her with profiles of people she may know. She has seen profile photos of students she knows are underage, holding a beer. This may show a potential employer the under-aged individual doesn’t respect the law.
“If I’ve got pictures of you obviously intoxicated, things you think are nothing, or a joke, people take very seriously,” Casper said. “If I look at (your profile) and every picture shows you at a party, you are a problem because I’m thinking, ‘Here’s somebody who is probably going to be late to work if this is your lifestyle, is it a lifestyle that I want to
Casper went on to say an employer won’t tell a prospective employee they are no longer a candidate for the job based on their profile, however, if there are three or four people competing for the same position with the same qualifications, it’s more likely an individual with a clean, well-managed social media account would get the position.
“I have looked on Facebook pages of candidates applying for jobs, most employers do, the large majority do … I have witnessed people who have inappropriately used social media and no longer have positions,” Harris said.
One of the biggest things students should recognize is, it is well within anyone’s right to curse like a pirate, dress like a hoe, criticize products, companies and brands and to pass out head hanging over a toilet. It is also within anyone’s rights to post these photos and comments online, but it is also the right of others to look at and search for these images and comments and use them against the person who posted them.
Students can and should do what they like, but deep consideration should be given to what parts of a person’s private life should be posted on a public site.
“Having a personal account, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and having a voice to the world is very powerful and requires a great deal of responsibility and accountability,” Harris said.
Often students hear whatever is put on the Internet is permanent which may seem odd considering there is an option to delete virtually anything on Facebook, however, Casper explained how through data mining, deleted posts and pictures
will live on.
“Everything that goes out there now gets stored somewhere. It used to be, storing data was very expensive but now its not. It’s not expensive at all and social media sites make a lot of their money by data mining. So by saving your records they can sift through them with different programs to find interests and sell them to marketers,” Casper said. “So that data mining is so valuable, why would they get rid of something that you’ve deleted because it’s already demonstrated it’s part of your life this is part of your lifestyle these are things we can turn around and use for you.”
Casper has a good rule she shares with her students to cut down on regret worthy posting.
“I actually told my students yesterday, just make it a rule. Don’t post anything within five hours of drinking. Period. Just a good habit, then you don’t end up with these things you’re trying to take down later,” Casper said.
Casper’s rule can be important for all individuals, even students who aren’t currently seeking
“There are some professional practice things to consider, that you’re only speaking things that are congruent with those licensing procedures,” Wuthrich said in reference to professional licenses which are required in a number of professions including lawyers, doctors, most health workers, most psychologists and certified public accountants.
“Sometimes you can’t get into law school based on the things you say on Facebook,” Harris added.
Ultimately students may want to consider cleaning up their social media profiles. This includes performing Google searches of one’s self, including Google image searches. Tightening security settings, un-tagging photos of the epic party last weekend, or of a triumphant keg stand is a good idea. Students should consider who they want to be professionally and then ask, does my profile represent that version of myself?
“Don’t say it if you don’t want it on the front of the newspaper. That analogy is as true today as it was back then,” Harris said.