Track Suspensions Raise Privacy Concern of Students

Social networking sites can reveal information to unexpected people

By: Tim McAvoy
Published in The Campus Press 
February 15, 2007

The recent suspensions of several student-athletes from the CU track and field team has exposed important privacy issues for users of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

In January, an undisclosed number of student-athletes were dismissed from the team after posting indecent pictures of themselves on Facebook.

"This is an important moment in awareness for our student body," said CU Spokesman Bronson Hilliard. "Facebook and MySpace are not private forums, and the student-athlete in particular needs to understand the problematic features of these web sites."

But the problems are not limited to student-athletes, nor are they limited to academia. The privacy issues for students extend into possible future workplaces as well.

According to a recent poll conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, more than one-fourth of their responding entry-level employers reported that they have "Googled" or reviewed job candidate profiles on social networking sites. NACE polled 1,195 of their employer members during June and July of 2006.

"I'm definitely cautious of what goes up on my page," said Melinda Weed, a sophomore pre-education major. "I'm always hesitant to put up content that could be perceived differently by someone else."

And that someone else just may be your future employer.

According to Stephen Viscusi, author, columnist and radio talk show host in the workplace genre, if you have personal information in cyber-space, be it Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, or even your own blog, don't think a potential employer might not read it.

"Think twice before you put pictures or messages on-line and how you describe yourself," Viscusi said from his office in New York. "What may seem like a fun way to meet new friends to you may seem immature or weird to a potential employer."

Most of the social networking web sites have confidentiality features the user can manage in order to retain some privacy. Most users are unaware of such features, however, and often reveal too much personal information that may haunt them later on.

"A lot of it is just common sense," Jonathan Carpenter, a junior economics major said. "Just don't post anything you might regret later."

The incident of the CU track team wasn't the first example of such Internet carelessness at the university. In December 2005, student-athletes Clint O'Neal and Jackie Zeigle were suspended from their respective teams after sending racist and threatening messages to another student-athlete.

Brian Krueger, president of CollegeGrad.com, an entry-level job database for recent college grads, stressed the importance of reserve when posting anything personal online.

"It is up to the individual user to control access to their information," Krueger said. "Change your Facebook and MySpace settings to private and limit access to only those whom you know personally."

There are indeed benefits to social networking sites. They help students find friends during their college lives and also provide work after graduation.

But the unfavorable consequences, as proven by the CU track team, are equally as profound.


Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Tim McAvoy at tim.mcavoy@thecampuspress.com.