Although websites such as Facebook and MySpace experienced exponential growth during the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, some users remain oblivious to the fact that the information they post online can come back to haunt them. First, employers can monitor employees who maintain a blog, photo diary, or website. Employers can look for controversial employee opinions, sensitive information disclosures, or wildly inappropriate conduct. For example, a North Carolina newspaper fired one of its features writers after she created a blog on which she anonymously wrote about the idiosyncrasies of her job and coworkers.
The second unintended use of information from social networking websites is employers who check on prospective employees. A June 11, 2006 New York Times article reported that many companies recruiting on college campuses use search engines and social networking websites such as MySpace, Xanga, and Facebook to conduct background checks. Although the use of MySpace or Google to scrutinize a student’s background is somewhat unsettling to many undergraduates, the Times noted that the utilization of Facebook is especially shocking to students who believe that Facebook is limited to current students and recent alumni.
Corporate recruiters and prospective employers are not the only people interested in college students’ lives. The third unintended use of social networking websites is college administrators who monitor the Internet—especially Facebook—for student misconduct. For example, a college in Boston’s Back Bay expelled its student Government Association President for joining a Facebook group highly critical of a campus police sergeant. In addition, fifteen students at a state university in North Carolina faced charges in court for underage drinking because of photos that appeared on Facebook.
Although more users of websites such as Facebook are becoming aware of the potential pitfalls of online identities, many regular users still fail to take three basic security precautions. First, only make your information available to a specific list of individuals whom you approve. Second, regularly search for potentially harmful information about yourself that may have been posted by mistake or by a disgruntled former associate. Third, never post blatantly offensive material under your name or on your page as, despite the best precautions, this material will likely make its way to the wider world. By taking these simple steps, members of the digital world can realize the many benefits of e-community without experiencing some of the damaging unintended consequences.