THUNDER BAY – What you say online, and what you post online can impact you. That is a message that keeps coming forward from experts in social media, law enforcement, and parents. Now it is possible that an online posting on Facebook, a Tweet on Twitter, or something off of Google can impact a student’s chances to get into the post secondary school they are trying for. At least for now, in the United States.
Often people think of a posting on a social media site, or a tweet, that it is a fast and simple thing with no staying power. However as Donald Trump on election night in the United States, or a Winnipeg Blue Bomber football player recently demonstrated, it can have a lot of impact.
For high school students, many who seem to live with social media as an extension of their fingertip, the potential for problems can be huge.
High school students at several schools in Thunder Bay experienced some of the potential for problems in a recent ‘Sexting’ incident that brought police into several schools investigating reports of students sharing images of each other.
Cyber-bulling is another of the dark sides of the Internet and social media. The harassment reported by Amanda Todd in British Columbia led that young teenage girl to suicide. Another recent incident in New York had a high school student leaping in front of a train after enduring cyber-bullying at the hands of classmates.
There is however another side to the issue. Posted items online are being seen by potential employers and by admissions officers at colleges and universities.
Results from Kaplan Test Prep’s 2012 survey of college admissions officers* show that schools are increasingly discovering information on Facebook and Google that negatively impact applicants’ acceptance chances.
The survey reports, “While the percentage of admissions officers who took to Google (27%) and checked Facebook (26%) as part of the applicant review process increased slightly (20% for Google and 26% for Facebook in 2011) from last year, the percentage that said they discovered something that negatively impacted an applicant’s chances of getting into the school nearly tripled – from 12% last year to 35% this year. Offenses cited included essay plagiarism, vulgarities in blogs, alcohol consumption in photos, things that made them ‘wonder’, and ‘illegal activities’. In 2008, when Kaplan began tracking this trend, only one in 10 admissions officers reported checking applicants’ social networking pages”.
“Social media used to basically mean Facebook. But the underlying trend we see is the increase in use of Google, which taps into a social media landscape that’s proliferated to include Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, blogging and other platforms — and teens today are using all of these channels,” shares Jeff Olson, Vice President of Data Science, Kaplan Test Prep. “Additionally, we’re seeing a growing cultural ubiquity in social media use, plus a generation that’s grown up with a very fluid sense of privacy norms. In the face of all these trends, the rise in discovery of digital dirty laundry is inevitable.”
Olson noted, “With regard to college admissions, the traditional application — the essays, the letters of recommendation — represent the polished version of an applicant, while often what’s found online is a rawer version of that applicant. Schools are philosophically divided on whether an applicant’s digital trail is fair game, and the majority of admissions officers do not look beyond the submitted application, but our advice to students is to think first, Tweet later.”
Kaplan’s survey also found that only 15% of colleges currently have rules regarding the checking of applicants’ Facebook or social networking pages – a percentage that has remained fairly consistent over the past few years. Of schools that do have a policy, 69% said the policy prohibited admissions officers from visiting applicants’ pages – still leaving the vast majority of admissions officers with the flexibility to act at their own discretion.
Perhaps it is time that part of the school curiculum should include the safe use of social media for high school students?