‘With Public Actions Come Public Consequences’

Students and Faculty Discuss Blurred Boundaries of Facebook


Published: April 3, 2008

“Is this something you would want to put on the front of your door in McMahon?” asked Keith Eldredge, dean of students at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), in reference to some of the incriminating photos and personal information that students often post on Facebook.

Facebook continues to become increasingly integrated into the social realm, and some students post everything from drunken photos to phone numbers to their home addresses. And now, just about anyone from parents to employers to school administrators can join Facebook, and, if your privacy settings allow it, view your profile and the aforementioned drunken photos.

Ian Hoerner, FCLC ’11, says he uses Facebook for its main purpose: social networking. He also stated that he has heightened privacy settings. “If someone is searching for me, I have set up a limited profile so they can see what I want them to see.”

He also said he knows many of his peers often fail to use Facebook as judiciously. “[Some people I know] have little to no privacy settings. They should watch what they post on their Facebook [profiles] and who is able to see scandalous pictures of themselves, which are not very appealing and give the wrong message.”

Facebook continues to grow as a force on the Internet, even gaining executives formerly employed at Google, as reported by The New York Times this month. With growth, however, comes responsibility.

Though Facebook is now open to regions and corporations, allowing an older generation access to the site, a large portion of Facebook members are still made up of students, who sometimes find themselves targeted disciplinarily by the authority figures in their lives who now have access to their Facebook pages.

According to a 2006 article in The New York Times, campus police at schools such as George Washington University were suspected of using Facebook to crash parties where they believe underage drinking may be taking place.

Eldredge said that many schools have pushed for special policy implementation in regard to social networking sites. Fordham’s policy, he said, is much like the policy of resident assistants in McMahon Hall: “We won’t look away, but we’re not going to troll the pages to see what we can find just to get students in trouble.”

With employers, however, it may be a different story. “Many professionals and companies now openly admit to checking out applicants’ MySpace and Facebook pages to see what kind of images they project,” said Lauren Cardon, adjunct professor of English at FCLC.

One article in The New York Times cites a recent Columbia University graduate as saying his career counselor told him to delete everything from his Facebook in preparation for job hunting.

Michael Skelly, an executive search consultant from Stamford, Conn., gives the same advice to his clients. “You can’t make it all go away, but you can do damage control. If there are pictures of you on the Internet, you might not be able to remove them all, and in those cases, you need to try to identify the ones you cannot remove and untag yourself. Put as much distance as you can between yourself and the incriminating evidence. If, in an interview, this comes up—and it can and will—own it and display character and charisma.”

Cardon said, “I can’t see an employer saying, ‘So, that was quite a nurse costume you wore on Halloween. I hope you wouldn’t dress like that at our office.’ But it does affect how seriously an employer may take an applicant. Most likely, the applicant wouldn’t get the interview in the first place.”

Many see nothing wrong with employers browsing the profiles of potential employees. Brian Johnson, assistant professor of philosophy at FCLC, said, “If it is public information, then I think it is ethical. With public actions come public consequences. If a company wants to have that kind of intrusive relationship with their employees, they can do so (so long as the information is public), but they should be aware that their distrust will be returned by their employees.”

Last month, The New York Times reported that Facebook is planning to introduce new privacy features to allow members to decide who can see what when viewing their profiles. As of March 19, members can now block, for example, residential life members from viewing incriminating photos and employers from seeing their snarky gossip on status updates.  This replaces former privacy settings, which allow Facebook members to create just one standard limited profile, blocking certain people from all of the same information. This new privacy feature, however, doesn’t solve all the potential problems that members can run into when their pages are viewed.

If a friend has posted a picture of you drinking underage, even if your profile has the strictest of privacy settings, someone browsing through that friend’s photos will surely see it, and even if you’ve untagged yourself, your face still remains on the page.

Johnson said these issues apply not only to Facebook: “Everyone has to learn how to negotiate between a private persona and a public persona. It is a part of growing up.  Facebook has changed how we may express our newly formed adult persona, but the act of building a persona and setting boundaries is one that people have always had to confront. Welcome to the club!”