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College Admissions and Social Media Profiles

Last year, I noted that employers and others were increasingly looking at applicants’ social network website profile pages in their hiring decisions. Apparently, now college admissions officers are also using social network sites like Facebook and MySpace to make decisions on applicants. According to the Wall St. Journal:

A new survey of 500 top colleges found that 10% of admissions officers acknowledged looking at social-networking sites to evaluate applicants. Of those colleges making use of the online information, 38% said that what they saw “negatively affected” their views of the applicant. Only a quarter of the schools checking the sites said their views were improved, according to the survey by education company Kaplan, a unit of Washington Post Co.

Some admissions officers said they had rejected students because of material on the sites. Jeff Olson, who heads research for Kaplan’s test-preparation division, says one university did so after the student gushed about the school while visiting the campus, then trashed it online. Kaplan promised anonymity to the colleges, of which 320 responded. The company surveyed schools with the most selective admissions.

The article notes that most colleges don’t have policies with regard to when and how college admissions officers can use social network website profiles in making admissions decisions. The article illustrates that we need to make much greater progress in educating what I call “Generation Google” — the generation currently in high school and college who are chronicling their own lives and those of their classmates online — about the risks, consequences, and ethics of what they post on the Internet.

Moreover, many companies and college and graduate school admissions officers lack a policy or guidelines about the appropriate and inappropriate use of what they find online about a candidate. Policies are sorely needed, as there are many issues that need to be thought about:

* Should such information be used? When?

* How heavily should it be relied upon?

* What kinds of things should negatively impact an applicant? Information about sex life? Drug use? Drinking? Bad behavior?

* What steps should be taken to make sure that the information was accurate?

* Should a distinction be made between information that people post about themselves and information that others have posted about them, perhaps invading their privacy without their consent?

* What steps should be taken to make sure that the information used in fact relates to the applicant and not to somebody else with the same name?

* Should people be notified that information online was used against them and be given an opportunity to be heard to explain it?

Originally Posted at Concurring Opinions

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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.

Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz, of the Privacy + Security Forum and International Privacy + Security Forum, annual events designed for seasoned professionals.

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