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Facebook: Put your best face forward

By Martina Sternberg, Assistant Director of Career Services and Marie Soto, Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

(Dec. 12, 2005)--Facebook is increasingly popular among high school and college students. They use it to stay in contact with old friends and to meet new friends around the globe.

Organized by school, Facebook pages seem innocent, but users may not know that employers, parents and even the Secret Service have access to their Facebook pages.

Following is an explanation of what Facebook is, how people use it and how students can use it as a positive way to network.

What is Facebook?

Facebook.com was created by Mark Zuckerberg to connect people through social networks at schools and it was made available to the public in February 2004. Since then, Facebook has become a phenomenon reaching around the world. Facebook pages can include very personal information, along with messages and pictures of members and friends. With an estimated 3 million users, 60 percent of them log on at least once a day.

How do students use it?

Students use Facebook to stay in contact with friends. However, they "talk" with their friends as if they are behind closed doors and are unaware of how far reaching their Facebook is.

How can non-students use Facebook?

According to the Facebook privacy policy, site operators can share information with third parties including a number of agencies and potential employers. Parents logging on may be surprised what they find on their children's sites. Stalkers, employers, parents, faculty, administrators and any number of not-so-well-intentioned people could find all of a student's personal information. Students believe their conversations are just between them and their friends, but don't realize it is like a phone tap and can be used in positive and negative ways.

At UTSA, the vice president of the Student Government Association said he started his campaign on Facebook and is certain it got him elected to office.

In March, a student at Oklahoma State University posted an unfavorable comment about President Bush and was investigated by the Secret Service.

A student at Fisher College in Boston was expelled for his online critique of a campus police officer.

University of California officials said they discipline students that live on campus if photographs and information they post are evidence of illegal activity, such as drinking in dorms.

Employers use Facebook to recruit -- and screen out -- potential employees.

What can UTSA faculty and staff do to inform students?

Remind students to always put their "best face forward." Students have control over what they put on their Facebook and they must be aware of how the information can be used.

Students should not post anything on their Facebook pages that they wouldn't want parents, potential employers or school administrators to see, or it might come back to haunt them.

While Facebook can be seen as a potentially damaging tool, what can students do to make it a positive experience?

From a career services point of view, counselors can use it to teach networking skills that can be transferred to the job search process by connecting students with employment leads and ideas.

Student and professional organizations can be a useful extension of Facebook by providing information on meetings and face-to-face contacts that are important when job searching.

Career Services staff were surprised and overjoyed to discover one UTSA student on Facebook who referred to the Career Services Jobbank and placed the Career Services link on their profile.

With awareness of the possible positive and negative ramifications, Facebook can help students put their best faces forward.

University Communications
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