Protect Your Privacy: My Facebook Lesson Learned

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Posted by The Editors on July 28, 2011
Protect Your Privacy: My Facebook Lesson Learned

Ever since Facebook burst onto the social networking scene in 2004, college students have been documenting their frivolities more than ever: the good, the bad, and the tasteless. You know the photos I’m talking about (keg stands at glow-in-the-dark foam parties).

What happened to maintaining a little mystery or privacy in one’s life? Do you really want all your closest Facebook friends seeing your drunken rendition of “I Will Survive” in their news feeds the next morning? Okay, I’ll admit that I’ve been known to belt out a tune or two at karaoke, but I’ve never done so with the intention of replaying those performances to anyone who wasn’t there with me. Sadly, that’s exactly what happened to an old classmate of mine.

My freshman year of college was pretty typical. I went to parties on the weekends, participated in intramural sports, and attended classes regularly, all while documenting my every move on Facebook. Just like every other naïve student, I figured I had nothing to worry about as long as I adjusted my privacy settings when necessary. After all, I had at least three years before anyone in the professional world would be interested in looking me up online. Right?

Wrong. Enter Mr. Smith, journalism professor and Facebook hacker extraordinaire.

During the first two weeks of Intro to Journalism, Mr. Smith stressed the importance of our personal brand and how those “darn social sites” are sucking the professionalism right out of us. Our eyes rolled.

Then, at the start of class one day, the lights dimmed and the projection screen slowly descended from the ceiling. With a sly grin on his bearded face, Mr. Smith pressed play. A slideshow of humiliating pictures and videos fluttered across the screen as people cringed in mortification, laughed at classmates, and sunk their heads in shame.

The show went on for an hour, at which point I couldn’t tell whether the tears on my classmates’ faces were from sheer embarrassment or laughter. But we learned an important lesson that day (at least I did): Just because a photo or video isn’t intended for a certain audience doesn’t mean that audience won’t find it. Mr. Smith was able to find his students’ profiles and browse every picture and video despite our efforts to manage Facebook’s ever-changing privacy settings.

If one professor can do this, it’s safe to say prospective employers can do it too. Are you willing to risk your future career for risqué photos and videos? I’m not suggesting you should stop having fun, only that you should stop documenting what you wouldn’t want the rest of the world—or your fellow classmates—to see.

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