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Online Social Networking Dangers and Benefits

Social Networking Site Dangers

Because students often post detailed and specific information on Facebook (including phone numbers, addresses, class schedules, social plans, etc.) you can be more easily stalked by strangers (or even acquaintances).

Identity theft can also be a significant risk of social networking. Personal details like your full name, names of your family members, your phone number, birthday, address, and place of employment can all be used by identity thieves.  "Passport-style" profile photos also make it easier for identity thieves to replicate your online presence.

Catfishing:
Coined from the independent film "Catfish," which follows a filmmaker who discovers the truth about the online relationship he has been conducting with a woman whom he has never met, "catfishing" occurs when a user creates a false or highly-exaggerated social media profile for the purposes of conducting a relationship online. Some profiles are created out of boredom or loneliness, while others are created to exact revenge or cause embarrassment to the targeted party.
Common signs[1] that you are being catfished can include:

  • Inability to contact the other party "in person" - their cell phone is broken or has been stolen, they will not use Skype or SnapChat, they will not or cannot meet you in public despite the seriousness of your relationship.
  • Their photographs appear to be highly edited, stylized, or otherwise unrealistic. You can search Google by image file in order to determine whether the photos you've received are legitimate.
  • Details of their personal life consistently changing, or they have a life story that seems unbelievable or outlandish. If the relationship becomes too intense, they may develop a life-threatening illness, or face another threat to their "life" that could terminate the relationship. Your best resource here is your instinct for the truth, and to keep track of variations in their stories.


Impact on Schooling and Employment

Actions in the digital world can have far-reaching consequences in real life. Inappropriate posts on social media can have severe repercussions on a student's academic career, and students can lose jobs, internships and even interviews because of the information potential employers are finding out about students on their social networking accounts.

Expectations for student conduct, including actions on social media, are governed by the Student Code of Conduct that can be found in theTiger Lore Handbook. While administrators are not monitoring social networking sites, if information or pictures on a student's account that violate policy are brought to their attention or are reported to them, they will follow up and investigate further.

Compromising and inappropriate pictures, statements or other information on student social networking accounts can hurt students' chances to gain (or even be considered for) employment. Employers take the images that students are portraying on social networking sites very seriously as a reflection of personal character.

High school and college athletes may find that their social media profiles fall under additional scrutiny. Many universities and colleges will monitor the social media profiles of recruits and current athletes to determine that athlete's character and ability to represent the university, and some forms of social media contact may constitute a violation of NCAA regulations[2]. Speak with your coach or an Athletics Department staff member should you have questions regarding your social media actions.

Benefits of Social Networking Sites

A social networking site can be a good way to make connections with people with similar interests and goals. They can be a way to connect with or "meet" people that a student may not have had the opportunity to before-including other students, staff, faculty and even alumni. Just as social media provides another avenue for making friends, it also makes it possible to renew old ones. Thus, meeting people and staying connected with classmates and friends is a major benefit of social networking sites.

Social networking sites also offer event listings, group profiles and fan pages that can communicate the pulse of a campus culture. They can be a great way to understand and stay connected to your campus community as a whole.

How to Stay Safe

Evaluate your social networking account and postings-how do you feel about your employers seeing what you have posted? How about your parents or grandparents?

Do not post private information, including your cell phone number, home address, class schedule, social plans, etc. unless you are prepared for anyone to find you/track you down, any time of the day or night. Do not post anything that might be embarrassing to you in a potential employment situation. People have been denied work because of information found on social networking sites.

Utilize the "Privacy" settings on your Facebook account-you can adjust your privacy settings so as to control who has access to your personal information. These settings change and evolve frequently, so check your privacy settings after any site updates to ensure that you are still protected.

To minimize the risk of identity theft, carefully monitor the information you make publicly available on social media or make your profile private. Using different passwords for your social media sites, email accounts and any online commerce sites (banking, shopping, billing, etc.) can also make it more difficult for identity thieves to acquire information about you[3]. Using a group photo for your profile picture can also make it more difficult for thieves to replicate your identity online.

Be prepared to answer questions about your social networking page or other social account in job interviews. It has become common for interviewers to ask applicants, "Are you on a social networking site?" and "What is on your profile?" Be prepared to either decline the question or answer honestly because employers will most likely look at your social networking account themselves... if they haven't already.


[1] "Everything You Need to Know About the Catfishing Epidemic," DigitalTrends.com, Molly McHugh, August 23, 2013

[2] "Tracking Twitter, Raising Red Flags" The New York Times, Pete Thamel, March 30, 2012

[3] "Identity Theft on Social Media: Are You at Risk?" Better Business Bureau, Katie Burgoyne, June 20, 2013