IvyWise KnowledgeBase

IvyWise Newsletter

Get Facebook Savvy

Part one in a two-part series

Even though it started as a site for Harvard students, Facebook is now open to everyone, which means that it’s easy for anyone to sign up, search for, or even “friend” you. These friends can have more access to your profile than someone who is not a friend, and that’s an important distinction to remember, as it could potentially lead to trouble with the admissions process.

Just how secure is your profile? A group of New Jersey high school students recently conducted an experiment where they created a fake student profile and tried to “friend” students in the school. By the end of the experiment, almost 60% of the students had accepted the friend request from this made up student, and another 55 people had tried to friend her directly! Most of these students didn’t realize that by friending someone they didn’t actually know, they had given an anonymous Facebook user access to all of their online information.

Admissions officers are generally not creating fake profiles or searching for individual students—In fact, many schools have policies against randomly searching student profiles. However, one admissions representative from an Ivy League university said that his office receives a number of anonymous Facebook and Google “tips” each year, and he is obligated to check them out. He went on to say that on at least one occasion, an offer of admission was actually revoked as a result.
So if you think you\’re secure because you’ve adjusted your privacy settings, you should know that some of these tips came from friends and peers of the students. Admissions officers have even received screenshots of profiles. That jealous “frenemy” of yours may do more than just write a mean post on your wall.

Unfortunately this extends beyond Facebook, to the web as a whole. This can be applied to your blog, Facebook profile and pictures, Twitter tweets, LiveJournal posts, or basically anything that can come up in an online search of your name. For example, Penn admissions officers read applications on a computer, so if they read something in the application that is unclear or inconsistent, they might turn to the Internet and stumble upon something you don’t want them to see.
So what should you do? Start sweeping up your digital dirt.

Honestly evaluate your profile. Think about whether you want one of your grandparents (yes, really—a grandparent) to see the content you’ve got on there. Or how about the teacher who’s writing your college recommendation? If it doesn\’t pass that test, then you need to get rid of it. Don’t worry, you can always store comments or photos offline or in a file on your computer—but if they’re on the Internet, to some extent, they’re public domain. Even with new friend and privacy settings in place, you should simply remove any incriminating photos or comments. Remember those jealous friends? It’s better to be safe than sorry. So here are some tips on locking down your digital data:

  • For starters, take your phone number, email address, and home address off Facebook. That’s just a general safety precaution, but it also reduces searchability.
  • Don’t use your full name when you post in forums (such as College Confidential or other message boards on the Internet), and make sure to remove your full name from any online outlets where you also have a username. This means removing your full name from your Livejournal or Xanga as well.
  • Your parents may use Facebook or LinkedIn to network, but you’re probably only using social networking sites to connect with friends. So use a friend filter, and only accept requests from people you know in real life.
  • Use private messages for any conversations that might not pass the grandparent test and let your friends know about this new policy. Likewise, don’t post anything on their wall that you wouldn’t want their grandparents to see.
  • If you keep a blog, Xanga or LiveJournal, you should be monitoring the content of the posts and the comments—a simple preference adjustment can allow you to approve everything before it posts to your wall or blog. And it might just save you an embarrassing moment or two from one of your blabbermouth friends.
  • Keep your tweets private. As a Twitter user, you have the option to approve who can follow you and to keep your tweets out of search results.
  • Untag yourself from any questionable photos! Then talk to the person that posted and ask him or her to take it down or crop/remove you from the photo. Of course, it’s best to not engage in any behavior that may result in a questionable photo.

Don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom. In next month’s newsletter, I’ll talk about the positive uses of Facebook, and how you can use social networking sites to actually help you with the admissions process. In the meantime, get started on your profile lockdown.