College Admissions Officers Police Prospective Students Through Facebook

It turns out that college admissions officers use Facebook to police the language prospective students use on their social networks:

Twelve percent of admissions counselors told Kaplan that what they found on social networks hurt an applicant’s admissions prospects—particularly when it involved vulgarity, evidence of alcohol consumption or essay plagiarism, or proof of illegal activity.

This, of course, is ridiculous. How long do you think it will take students to realize that this is going on and create official “good girl / boy” persona and hide their true selves behind it? Who will benefit except the most hypocritical? People who can’t even relax on their own social network and who use it to present a fake persona of a spotless, “moral” creature whose status update is stuck at “Studying hard and working to succeed in life” will end up attracting the stupid admissions counselors who think that lack of profanity on one’s Facebook page is some kind of evidence that one will be a good student.

State universities explicitly prohibit search committees from doing any online searches on the candidates precisely because a job search process for a new faculty member should not be reduced to an exchange of gossip about who said what on their blog or Facebook page. I think the same courtesy should be extended to students, as well.

A few chance readers of this blog have asked me a very bizarre question. “You just accused me of being a troll,” an irate reader of this kind would say. “Is this how you treat your students? You just call them trolls when they ask you questions?”

I always thought that people who don’t understand a difference between interacting with students and with anonymous online trolls must suffer from grave intellectual limitations. It’s not very encouraging to see that these limitations also characterize a significant percentage of admissions officers who don’t understand that their job is to evaluate admissions packages that have been submitted to them and not to troll other people’s online resources.

P.S. My gratitude goes to blogger Miriam whose insightful post alerted me to this phenomenon.

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23 comments on “College Admissions Officers Police Prospective Students Through Facebook

  1. All this trolling for personal data on admissions or job candidates is frankly getting out of control. A friend of mine almost ended his friendship with me because I posted very professional but critical comments about politically charged articles he posted on Facebook. It turns out he was up for tenure and many of his Facebook friends were actually professorial colleagues. Of course, he couldn’t say that on Facebook, so he had to call me to describe his dilemma. So the solution was that I would no longer comment on his wall. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt his chance at tenure.

    That said, I am outraged that clowns at a prestigious American university would hold his friend’s comments against him, when it has nothing to do with his position.

    • This is truly a ridiculous situation that you are describing. I’d say that those profs’ workload is definitely not large enough if they have time and energy to read somebody else’s comments on a colleague’s page and care about them. Besides, since when is one’s politics (let alone one’s friend’s politics) is held against one during tenure review?

      Sad, indeed.

  2. I scrubbed my facebook profile recently since I’m applying for a second job, and all that comes up under my real name now is either obviously not me (There are about four other people in the world with my name it seems) or is just all the good virtuous stuff I’ve done over the years which warranted an article in the local newspaper back home.
    But as I said when I first saw Miriam’s article, what I do with my free time is hardly any business of my university/employer (who are one in the same at the moment) unless what I am doing is somehow going to negatively impact my job performance or my academics. Weren’t they ever young themselves?

    • I also wonder what happens if this kind of admissions person / employer discovers that the candidate espouses political beliefs they don’t share. If they feel it’s fine to judge people on their morality, how likely are they to stop themselves in time before judging, say, a pro-choice woman or a LGBTQ activist as “immoral”? Of course, they won’t confess to this bias, but I have got to wonder.

      • I have a story about that actually: A boss at one of my old jobs added me on facebook, and refused to listen to me when I told her I didn’t feel comfortable doing it, so I conceded for the sake of my job. Big mistake. She was an evangelical Christian conservative who took a lot of issues with me being an agnostic Jew, and began leaving me messages suggesting she wanted to “have a talk” with me at work about the “good news” of Jesus Christ. The real shitstorm came when I posted a rather neat article from the BBC about chimpanzees and human babies having similar brains, which made a direct reference to evolution, which she found unacceptable, since she didn’t believe in evolution. She began harassing me about believing in it (“If evolution is real, and we’re related to monkeys, why are there still monkeys? THINK ABOUT IT!”)
        I quit about a month later and deleted her, but not before reporting her behaviour to the company anonymously.

  3. I know this is done at many (most?) jobs, so *everybody* should be prepared for being searched and its’ consequences. It’s a fact of life nowadays, and won’t be changed. Laws and guidelines won’t prevent one’s potential boss using the search, so I don’t worry about college admissions officers using it either. That’s why imo high school students should get a lecture from their school about it with explanation of likely results: “Want to go to good uni? Get a good job? Then don’t behave like a complete fool on-line”. I heard RE such a search being used for a job not requiring a uni degree, and a candidate being not hired based on the results. Btw, essay plagiarism? I would take that into account too. As for creating fake pages, too many young people are too stupid to understand today’s world, apparantly, that’s why I am sure some explanation of current hiring practices has to be given by schools. Like they must give sex ed, explanations about uni & job seekers being checked should be given too. If it was decided they need sex ed and using Internet themselves isn’t enough, why not one good lecture about the world of employment?

    • I think this is going to develop in the opposite direction, though. The dinosaurs who can’t deal with the fact that some people have lives, opinions, fun, parties and swear words will be displaced by more dynamic, Internet-literate crowd each member of which will have their own online presence. This is just a remnant of the old guard that is in its death throes, I believe.

      New business models displace these old, stuffy business models everywhere nowadays. In order to be competitive, you now need to learn to generate Twitter followers, write fun blog posts, have a cool Facebook presence, dump the business suits, and dress like a normal person, etc. It’s just that some ancient pterodactyls (and I’m not talking about their chronological age, of course) haven’t had time to adapt to the new reality yet.

      • Partly, yes. But this job I mentioned is an environment full of young people working with Internet, not old whatever in any way.

        Plagiarism is a legitimate issue, imo. And as long as people continue to judge each other on not only work related parameters, which I don’t see ending, any info will many times be used against one. F.e. Russian speaking name is not work related parameter, yet in US and Israel too it hurts chances of getting a good job often. One doesn’t need Internet to discover this, but if people (and not only old ones) judge on name, why not on other things suddenly?

      • Hey, I like suits! This is the only area in which I wish people went back in time. People dress so sloppily these days, I shudder to think what the future has in store for us.

  4. nominatissima :

    I have a story about that actually: A boss at one of my old jobs added me on facebook, and refused to listen to me when I told her I didn’t feel comfortable doing it, so I conceded for the sake of my job. Big mistake. She was an evangelical Christian conservative who took a lot of issues with me being an agnostic Jew, and began leaving me messages suggesting she wanted to “have a talk” with me at work about the “good news” of Jesus Christ. The real shitstorm came when I posted a rather neat article from the BBC about chimpanzees and human babies having similar brains, which made a direct reference to evolution, which she found unacceptable, since she didn’t believe in evolution. She began harassing me about believing in it (“If evolution is real, and we’re related to monkeys, why are there still monkeys? THINK ABOUT IT!”)
    I quit about a month later and deleted her, but not before reporting her behaviour to the company anonymously.

    Gosh, the monkey argument! One just can’t get enough of that. I confess that my understanding of evolution is on the monkey level, too, but at least I’m aware enough to realize that this is the product of my ignorance and that people should not be exposed to the fruits of my ignorance.

  5. Thanks for the link! It’s interesting that state schools don’t allow Facebook stalking of potential candidates; this is exactly the sort of thing I keep being told happens in the mythical “real world” to which I will soon be advancing.

    As you mentioned in one of the comments above, though, I do think that this is on the decline. In a decade or so, people who are my age now, who have grown up with the internet, will be taking over the workforce. Hopefully we will remember that what one does for fun on the weekends is a pretty poor indicator of workplace competence.

    • “In a decade or so, people who are my age now, who have grown up with the internet, will be taking over the workforce. Hopefully we will remember that what one does for fun on the weekends is a pretty poor indicator of workplace competence.”

      – Exactly! There should also be an awareness that one’s Internet persona does not necessarily get carried into the workplace. I express my political opinions very vocally on this blog. But in the classroom, I can absolutely guarantee that my students do not have the slightest clue at the end of the semester what my politics are. This is precisely why I need the blog. I vent here and then bring my “patient, kind, sunny, cheerful, enthusiastic and sweet” (this is how students characterize me in the evals) persona to work.

      • “But in the classroom, I can absolutely guarantee that my students do not have the slightest clue at the end of the semester what my politics are.”

        It’s not like you go to great lengths to protect your anonymity online. I’m sure a curious student can find this blog in ten minutes and I’m sure many have done that. What’s nice is that they seem to love and respect you even if they disagree with your politics, which is a testament to your great teaching.

      • “It’s not like you go to great lengths to protect your anonymity online. I’m sure a curious student can find this blog in ten minutes and I’m sure many have done that.”

        – I find it hard to believe that my students would do any extra reading without any hope of getting a grade for it. They don’t even do the graded reading. :-) I can always hope, though. :-)

  6. I hear there are services where you pay to have your presence ‘scrubbed’ from the Web. All social networks, blog comments, messageboard postings that can be linked to your name, and so on. Don’t know if it’s really doable – google’s cache will always be there.

    I still don’t understand why people use their real name when posting on random messageboards/blogs/newsgroups. There’s so much potential for abuse.

    • For me, it’s an issue of ownership. Using my real name keeps me from getting careless and saying things that I don’t want associated with me. It also means that people who are interested in my writing can easily find it, and as I have nothing to be ashamed of, I have no reason to make it anonymous.

      Quite the contrary, my blog has actually improved most of my friendships because I say things that lots of people think but don’t realize that they aren’t the only ones, especially when it comes to mental health stuff. I don’t think using my real name has had any downsides.

      • I think it makes a lot of sense for you to use your real name, Miriam. You are a gifted writer and having the pieces you write on your blog be associated with your name will be a good thing for you.

        Who wouldn’t hire somebody who writes like this? Writing well gives one a huge advantage on the job market in many pprofessions.

  7. How can a hiring committee or admissions officer see anything if your privacy controls are set tighter than public without ‘friending’ the student or candidate? Why do so many young people (my relatives for example) leave their posts public?

    • That’s what I don’t understand. I blog under my real name, and have a Twitter account to go with the blog, but I also have a Twitter that is friends only, and no one can see anything on my facebook page unless I friend them. Silly me, thinking everyone did the same.

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