Facebook and MySpace – Private or Not?

Every year, my husband and I offer an art scholarship to a high school senior who will be  majoring in an art-related subject in college.  This year, we had many qualified applicants.  Their grade point averages were high, their need was great, their art was creative, their essays engaging, and their teacher recommendations were, of course, glowing.  On first glance, they all seemed to be deserving candidates. I wondered how I was going to choose between them but then I had a thought…why not conduct a little amateur sleuthing on the internet to see what would turn up?

As I typed in name after name, I was surprised to see how easy it was to find personal information about each of the candidates.  One applicant had gotten “so wasted” at last weekend’s party and another applicant had a very revealing and inappropriate profile picture.  Applicant #3 made adolescent jokes about parts of his anatomy and applicant #6 was trying to “hook up” with random girls online.  Now, I am no prude but the offensive language used by the applicants, and their friends, on Facebook and MySpace, was out of control and unnecessary.  In a little under an hour, I had discovered another side of these applicants that was not evident in their scholarship applications…and it wasn’t very flattering.  Fortunately (for them and me) two of the candidates were smart enough to utilize the privacy settings on Facebook and MySpace, so I didn’t discover anything negative about them, which gave them extra points in my book.

Over the years, Facebook and MySpace have cultivated a permissive atmosphere where people seem to feel free to over share personal information. Lately, I have seen the consequences. I know a student who got suspended for the provocative content on her Facebook wall and I know a few people who have been fired as a result of Facebook content.  When will people learn that it’s important to use the privacy settings…and when will people realize that everything that you put on the web lives forever, even after you are gone?

After much discussion, we finally picked our scholarship recipient but I am still toying with the idea of whether or not to let the other students know why they were disqualified.  Maybe I will… or maybe I will just let natural consequences take its course…