Some students check it two, three or even four times a day. It’s not their e-mail account. It’s Facebook.
Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace have become increasingly popular among college students in recent years. These online directories connect students through social networks at colleges and universities across the country. By posting their names, birth dates, hometowns and special interests in their profiles, students allow virtually anyone to gain access to their personal information.
Employers have used the profiles of their prospective employees in some instances to aid in the hiring process.
A majority of students said they felt that employers should be allowed to view these profiles, but should not consider their content during the hiring process.
“It’s a public Web site,” said Benjamin Sydnes, a freshman finance major. “If students can access it, why can’t employers?”
Lauren Mooney, a freshman speech pathology major, agreed with Sydnes, but said that these profiles are not always representative of the student.
“It’s not your resume,” she said. “Who I am at school is not who I am in the workplace. It’s unfair.”
Some Temple employers agreed with students. Niki Mendrinos, assistant director of Campus Visit Programs and Owl Ambassador coordinator, said she feels Facebook or MySpace profiles are unimportant in the hiring process.
“I think the employer has the right to see if anything prohibits the potential employee from not performing the job well,” Mendrinos said. “But only if it has anything to do with the job responsibilities or requirements.”
Mendrinos affirmed that her employees’ Facebook or MySpace profiles are irrelevant to her hiring decisions.
“That’s what resumes and references are for,” she said.
Many users are unaware of the potential danger of putting too much information in their profiles. Users may unexpectedly meet a cyber friend from one of these Web sites, which can sometimes place them in an unsafe situation.
Charles Leone, deputy director of Campus Safety Services, said students need to recognize that anyone can look at these profiles and gather information.
“Most people sitting in the comfort of their living room, or wherever they are, feel secure, so they also feel secure when putting information on these sites,” Leone said. “I’d be cautious in any situation. It could be something that you think is innocent but that someone else may act on.”
Many sex offenders use the Internet to find their victims. Some conceal their true age and attempt to meet with their unassuming young victims.
“I think it is easier for someone [who’s] 35 to get online and pose as a teenager,” Mooney said. “It’s a problem. How can you know if you’re meeting a 16-year-old or a 35-year-old lying about his age?”
“I feel that it is too easy for people I don’t know to get information,” said Stephanie Bilinsky, a freshman English major. “I did have my cell phone number on Facebook, but I just took it down because I realized it could become creepy.”
Leone said that the Internet is not a trusting place and students should be aware of the specific information they give. With simple facts such as general location and birth dates, it is very simple for predators to find virtually anyone.
Leone also warned that profile pictures could disclose information about the user’s location.
“When you have diabolical minds out there who will use these [Web sites] to their advantage, it can become dangerous,” he said. “You don’t know who’s viewing these. It’s all fun, but be aware that you really put yourself out there.”
Students acknowledged the necessity of taking precautions to protect themselves.
“You can figure out just about anything you want to,” Sydnes said. “The problem is that people put too much information and don’t realize the hazards.”
“I actually put a lot of personal information on Facebook,” Mooney said. “I put where I live, my high school, my mailbox number – definitely a lot more than I thought I put on. If I ever have a problem, I’ll just delete my account.”
Leone said there have been rare instances in which students have used Facebook, MySpace and other personal Web sites to post offensive information about others. Campus Safety Services have only accessed Facebook in a few occasions to handle this problem. However, Leone said it is difficult to prosecute those who post obscene material.
“It depends on what they do,” Leone said. “It can be difficult [to press charges] because you’re facing the Supreme Court issue of freedom of speech. If they do something inappropriately, there may be some grounds to charge.”
Both the Facebook and MySpace Web sites include information about protecting privacy.
Facebook’s site says some information is shared with third parties, but precautions are taken to protect that information through the use of firewalls. MySpace warns users to be careful to withhold certain information and to use common sense when building profiles.
Bilinsky heeded MySpace’s warnings. After realizing the potential dangers of disclosing too much information, she removed her hometown from her public profile. When it comes down to personal privacy and protection, she said, it is just a matter of knowing what you are doing.
“People need to smarten up about this sort of thing,” Bilinsky said.
Chris Stover can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.