Remember that time you got wasted and took your shirt off at that party? Or posted that picture with that mountain of beer you bought for that camping trip? Even if you don’t, the internet does.
California Senate Bill 1349, a law recently passed by Gov. Jerry Brown, forbids college admissions officers from looking into the social media accounts of prospective and current students, and accompanying law Assembly Bill 1844 forbids potential or current employers from doing the same — but the law by itself is not enough to protect students from negative consequences.
Both laws will go into effect Jan. 1, 2013, to protect people from a new kind of discrimination. Today’s online world, dominated by the urge to share and with ever-shifting privacy policies, requires hyper-vigilance on the part of social media users. Not only do students need to monitor what they post to their own accounts, but also the pictures they are tagged in and groups to which they subscribe. Both can be used to gain access to an account.
Facebook’s “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” states that users shouldn’t share account information with anyone, no matter why they’re asking. Usernames and passwords are private information on every social media site.
A Kaplan Test Prep survey of 350 college admissions offices in the United States showed very few policies to prohibit using social media to make admissions decisions. According to the study, 87 percent allowed the use of Facebook, 76 percent the use of Twitter and 73 percent the use of YouTube in online information gathering, or stalking. They wouldn’t even have to like or follow you to get all your information because most people just leave it all out in the open.
It’s just that easy. Under the new laws, these actions are forbidden. It will also become illegal to fire or dismiss employees for something posted on private social media accounts.
But it’s more than just what you post. We now live in a world where nearly everyone is walking around with a device that can take a picture. They simply attach a snarky caption to it and upload it to the internet for all the world to see in a matter of seconds and voilà — there goes your reputation.
Students must stop and think before posting everything online. Even though you can’t be denied admission to the grad school of your dreams, that video of your friends took of you singing “Me So Horny” isn’t going to leave a good impression. Deleting it won’t help you, either. The internet is forever. There is no escaping reckless teenage and/or drunken decisions. But there are some things you can do.
The first level of protection is to make full use of privacy settings. Twitter users can privatize their accounts, which blocks all tweets from the private account to everyone on the site, except for those you have accepted as a follower. Facebook is a bit more tricky. Users can make sure that to make their account information private to friends only by using the privacy settings. Here you can alter what happens when friends post on your timeline, as well as protect your past posts from new friends, old friends and parents. You can also block users.
But what happens to those tagged posts that just won’t go away? The photo of you passed out at the bar? Or how about that article you were quoted in that made you seem like a raging stoner? If something is posted online that you can’t get someone to take down, there are options. One of those options is to bury the post by creating a larger online presence for yourself. Try writing a blog (or three), creating a new profile or joining a few more social media sites, like Pinterest or Klout.
Another solution to your digital woes is to enlist outside help. Recently, there have been a handful of companies sprouting up that claim to be able to help you clean up your online identity, for a fee, of course.
So while the new legislation will help protect you from some of your poor online decisions, it may not do so for all of them. The only way to be completely safe is to filter the content of your internet persona before it ever gets posted, tweeted or instantly grammed.
Be smart and be cautious. The internet never forgets.