If your child, like most other students, is on multiple social media sites, she should think about how the things that she posts — or that her friends post — can affect her future.
It's very common — and completely legal — for universities and employers to conduct an extensive background check on students. High school students are not expected to be perfect, but it’s important that they think about how their social media activities portray them. In the same vein, college students should think about how their social media presence may affect their chances of future employment or graduate school admissions.
Here are seven things your child can do to ensure that her social media posts today won’t adversely affect her education and job prospects in the future.
1. Understand privacy settings.
Facebook privacy settings auto-update on a regular basis; even students who think they have the highest privacy settings available may be unknowingly displaying their every move to universities and future employers. If your child is a Facebook user, encourage her to view her profile as a member of the public would — and also to ask a friend or family member to go through her page and look for anything that could be misunderstood or misconstrued. She should do this regularly to ensure that she keeps up with any privacy-policy changes that may occur.
2. Curate posts using The Parent Test.
A good rule of thumb for Facebook users is to think about how mom and dad would feel if they saw a certain post or picture. If your kids know that you would disapprove of the content, then it is likely that a university or employer would, too. Another useful exercise for students is to imagine an admissions officer or future boss as a Facebook “friend” who can see everything they post (although they should not actually friend a supervisor or admissions officer). What conclusions could an admissions officer draw? How can your child tailor her profile to put her best virtual foot forward?
3. Look back over old posts.
Your child should also conduct a brief but effective search of any tweets, pins, or other posts that she may have put online in the past year. In the process, she should take down anything that seems overly negative or that may misrepresent her.
4. Google [your child’s name].
Google is the most powerful search engine in the world. It is a great tool for researching anything or anyone. For this reason, your child should Google herself before applying to a school or job. Although slightly awkward, looking for things about yourself or your child online can help you figure out how quickly another person can locate that personal information.
5. Be proactive about creating a positive online presence.
It's important to think about both negative and positive elements of social media presence. For instance, if your child has taken the time to set up a professional LinkedIn profile, this should appear in her Google search results on the first page. If it doesn't, the privacy settings may be set too high, or your child may not be active enough on the site for it to show up. Highlighting the positive is just as important as removing the negative.
6. Be aware of what friends are posting.
Even if your child is professional and careful about what she posts online, it’s still important to be aware of her overall online identity. She may have friends or classmates who don’t take the same care — and her name or image may appear in search results without her knowledge. To prevent this from happening, she should set up a Google alert for her own name so she can see if it appears online without her consent. It’s best to find out about such an issue as quickly as possible so she can take steps to get the information or post removed.
7. Vent in person — not online.
People have been venting about classes and jobs they don't like for decades. Until recently, this was done in person; negative comments did not leave a trace and could be easily forgotten. Today, however, anything posted online can potentially haunt a person for months or even years to come. All people need to talk about things that bother them, but these discussions should always be conducted offline.
Students who consistently discuss negative aspects of a class, a teacher or professor, an internship, or a job are demonstrating that they have a lack of self-regulation. In reality, the student may be very professional, have an excellent work ethic, and be an overall happy and productive person who just happens to use social media as a way to deal with stress. Unfortunately, university administrators and potential employers will likely not have the chance to get to know that positive and professional person because their first impression will be negative. First impressions are key, and they are out there for everybody to view at will.
Remember that anything posted on the Internet can easily become public knowledge. Everybody has negative experiences and valid personal opinions, but certain things are meant for in-person conversations. A bad day is ephemeral, but the Internet is forever.
For more guidance, check out Getting Ready to Apply to College? Clean Up Your Facebook Page. If you still have questions, you can ask Noodle Experts about social media use for students to find the answer!