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Facebook prompts concerns

Rohan Anand and Nick Boch | Thursday, September 20, 2007

Facebook, undoubtedly the most popular social networking site for college students, is now posing a problem for those ready to apply for jobs after graduation.

User privacy concerns are believed to be the most common reason why a growing number of students have chosen to discontinue their Facebook accounts. Until last year, Facebook access was limited to high school and college students by requiring a school e-mail address in order to create an account.

Now that it is open to the public, more students are growing concerned about how easily their information can be accessed by non-students – particularly important individuals like potential employers in the job market.

“Students aren’t protecting certain parts of their Facebook,” said Lee Svete, director of career services at Notre Dame.

In the past, employers have joined Facebook, Svete said, “and invited students to be Facebook colleagues or used a search mechanism on the site to do background checks.”

Default privacy settings allow all members of a user’s school, region or work network to view their information. These settings can be adjusted to limit information to be available to confirmed friends only.

“I have the highest security settings available on my account, and definitely try and keep my information as vague as possible,” senior Lauren Benenati said. “Even still, I’ve heard stories from friends that despite these settings, recruiters can still access information.”

Benenati said the most likely way of encountering problems is through photographs that the user – or others – “tags” on Facebook, thus identifying the subjects of the photographs. Although she said she has never been told during a job interview that her profile has been searched, she has researched some company Web sites that claim to check Facebook and MySpace for incriminating material.

“One of my friends from the University of Florida told me that an interviewer for pharmaceutical sales company in Florida had seen a picture of him with beer on Facebook,” she said. “During the interview, the recruiter mentioned this just to verify that he was 21 and not breaking any laws, but even such a minor thing like a beer turned into something fairly intense.”

Recruiting though profiles

Still, students feel it’s unfair for paranoia over job interviews to prevent them from posting spring break pictures or expressing their political views on Facebook.

Svete said that such concerns should not be blown completely out of proportion.

“Some employers have stopped checking Facebook in a backlash because students feel that it’s their space,” he said. “There are definitely two schools of thought out there, in that some people are looking to see if there are alarming things on somebody’s page, whereas others people think that it’s their space; leave it alone.”

A Notre Dame alum who works for a top-tier investment bank, but requested to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions from her current employer, said checking the Facebook accounts of job candidates can serve to her company’s benefit.

“Often times, the people recruiting you are people who are a couple of years out of college,” she said.

“[We look] at profiles to see if they would be a good fit for our group based on common interests. It doesn’t really affect whether or not you will get the job, but rather what department would suit you best within the company,” she said.

When asked about how students should approach controlling certain types of content – such as pictures of underage drinking – she said that usually recruiters have a fairly relaxed opinion toward that kind of display, but that the student should just be generally cautious of the kind of perception he delivers to the public.

“We understand that alcohol is a part of college, and once you get to corporate cultures, you’ll be drinking with colleagues during your training, so it’s not a huge deal,” she said. “You just have to understand the boundary between what is and isn’t appropriate, and the kind of image you convey to your boss before you even reach the job.”

A conservative approach

There are still some upperclassmen, like junior Kirk Fogg, who have chosen not to toy with privacy settings on their Facebook account and are still comfortable with leaving their information open to the public.

“Anybody can access my information,” he said. “But I really haven’t touched it in months – the only thing that keeps changing is the pictures people tag of me. I think that if I post something on there that is funny, my hope is that somebody else who sees it will also find it funny as well.”

Fogg said he tries to stay conservative with what he posts.

“I know an employer won’t be disturbed with what’s on there as long as I am not completely out of control, like posting pictures of nudity,” he said. “And personally, I don’t want to work for an employer that gets bent out of shape for [me] drinking alcohol once in awhile.”

“Still, I understand that it’s all part of the culture we live in, and once in awhile you have to abide by the so-called ‘rules,’ so just use common sense,” he said.