If you’re like most people, you don’t associate your MySpace or Facebook profile with your schoolwork or your pursuit of a career. Maybe you should, though, because schools and employers are increasingly doing so. As one woman pursuing her teaching degree found out, a school can even strip you of your diploma if it finds the content posted on your page to be sufficiently offensive.
The woman in question, Stacy Snider, was just days away from earning her education degree and accompanying teaching certificate from Millersville University of Pennsylvania when the school discovered a photo (right) on her MySpace page of her wearing a pirate hat and drinking (presumably alcohol) from a plastic cup, with the caption “Drunken Pirate” written underneath. Although she was of legal drinking age, school administrators deemed the photo “unprofessional” for an aspiring teacher and presented Snider with an English degree instead of an education degree, thus ending her bid to become a teacher. The decision was upheld on appeal in part because Snider was seen more as an employee of a local high school — where she served as a student-teacher — than as a college student.
As this example shows, students tend to have more freedom of speech than employees, but it’s not unprecedented for a student to be expelled for online content. Still, while your diploma might not always be at stake, the closer you get to graduation, the more companies begin to look at you as a potential employee rather than a student. As such, more and more employers are using social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace to do background searches on students to help determine, as one Human Resources director put it, their “ethics, integrity and decision-making ability.” Inappropriate content could cost you a job before you even get it. Similarly, high school students applying to colleges could jeopardize their acceptance into their school of choice by posting offensive material online.
Of course, any sort of illegal content posted online could put not only your schooling or job at stake, but it could even lead to your arrest. Threatening, harassing or inflammatory posts in particular could end in jail time.
In short, be mindful of what you post on a social networking site — or any website for that matter. At the very least, use your privacy settings to ensure that the only people who see your page are those you invite to do so. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if your seemingly innocent post comes back to haunt you. Arrrgh.