Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Two recent Facebook controversies have been grabbing media headlines lately. Both cases involved private schools, one in Cebu (central Phillipines) and another in Marikina in Metro Manila, where officials banned students from participating in graduation rites because of photos posted on the students' Facebooks.
My column will not be on the schools' responses, which I do feel involved overkill, but on the need for social media users, especially younger people, to be more careful about how they use Facebook and other similar sites.
This is especially important for their future, in terms of moving from high school to college, from undergraduate work to graduate school, and from universities to getting jobs.
As early as 2008, one American company, Careerbuilders, conducted a survey of company hiring procedures and reported that 20 per cent of employers surveyed were checking Facebook and other social networking postings of applicants and had used their findings in these sites as a basis for hiring, or rejecting, applicants.
Kaplan, another American company, reports in a 2011 survey of 500 American universities and colleges that 20 per cent of the admissions officers said they had used Google and that 24 per cent had visited social networking sites like Facebook to get more information on applicants. Twelve per cent said Internet findings had negative impacts on their decisions about the students.
In the different surveys I reviewed, the schools and companies mainly checked the Internet for the following: inappropriate photographs, evidence of inappropriate behaviour, language that suggests a disruptive personality, and finally, dishonesty.
First, schools and companies do cite "inappropriate" photographs as having a negative impact, but I will say here "inappropriate" is a very relative term.
For example, the applicant in a bikini, or even boys kissing boys will probably not be enough to turn off the admissions or job screening officer, but a similar picture with sexually seductive texts could be negatively interpreted.
Second would be evidence of "inappropriate" behaviour such as the use of drugs or heavy drinking. The evidence can come from the applicant's boasting on his or her social media site, or sometimes from posted photographs showing him/her binge drinking, or worse. Some school admissions officers said they even go on to check friends of a Facebook site owner, presuming that birds of the same feather flock together. So do be careful about your links: you could get into trouble if you have friends who boast about their inappropriate behaviour.
Third, the schools and companies check for "inappropriate" and "provocative" language in the postings. I don't think we're talking here about a few curse words; rather it's the general tenor of a social media site. Is the applicant generally disagreeable, criticising everyone and anything, for example? Some schools and companies mention that they note sexist, racist, even homophobic comments, not so much for political correctness than as evidence of a person's sense of better judgement.
Note that a Google search can lead an admissions officer or a job screening staff to comments you posted in reaction to blogs or, ahem, newspaper columns. You might think you sound brilliant in those postings, but the job recruiter or school admissions officer might see you as boastful, arrogant, quarrelsome or not very intelligent.
In the Philippine setting, a potential problem I see is the way Filipinos use Facebook to pick on others. They do this by using their own Facebook site to say something negative about someone else, with comments that border on the libelous. Or they might post comments on a friend's (or rather, former friend's) social media site, directly assaulting the person with insults.
One of my graduate students alerted me to this problem, pointing to recent student council elections in various schools with the student parties putting up Facebook sites and the sites becoming arenas for mudslinging.
Listening to my graduate student, I became quite worried thinking of how young Filipinos are learning, all too early, to ape adult politicians, and doing this through the Internet. But shortly after my graduate student's sharing about her school, a group of students in my own college complained about faculty members entering the election fray and posting unkind comments about the candidates.
The young students themselves saw this as an example of Facebook going awry. People forget that an Internet posting can be seen by many people, and that controversial ones go viral, meaning, people spread the word about anything sensational, or people inviting people who invite more people to check out the postings.
The last and most important reason for schools and companies to use the Internet to check on applicants is to compare the applicant's submitted resum? with information gathered from the Internet-to look for exaggerated or fabricated claims about academic training or previous job experience.
Or, even worse, for an important information that has been omitted, for example, an involvement in some controversy in a previous job, even a quarrel with officemates that made it into the Internet.
Internet postings are similar to tattoos, maybe even worse. With tattoos, there's expensive surgery now that can remove, at least partially, the name of the person you thought you'd love for life. It's different with Internet postings; even if you regret and decide to delete a controversial posting you made-for example, while quarreling with someone-it may have already been copied and relayed to others.
Think about the Internet as a kind of a massive closet that stores many secrets, for many years. The problem is that there's always a chance people will stumble on these skeletons in the closet.
Facebook and social media sites have sections which are private, but some companies are now going to the extent of asking an applicant if they can visit these private sites. You have the right to say no, but doing this might be misinterpreted as your trying to hide something.
Conversely, a willingness to open your social media site-maybe even providing the link to your Facebook in your resum?-could work positively.
In the Kaplan survey I mentioned, college admissions officers said they also look up Facebook postings of outstanding athletes and winners of academic competitions to recruit them.
Spruce up your Facebook but also guard against "hard-selling" yourself, with a contrived website. Be spontaneous in showing how your passions go beyond boyfriends and girlfriends, celebrity worship and the latest fashions.
The bottomline? Be good, be true in both your virtual Internet life, and in the real world out there.
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