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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Using common sense in the age of Facebook

Published: September 23, 2010
Section: Opinions

During the past few years there has a been a lot written about the Millennial generation, the generation of which I, and every current member of the Brandeis student body, am a part. We are on track to become the most educated generation in American history, according to the Pew Research Center, and nearly every article written about us contains a section about our technological savvy.

Social networking has become an ever increasingly important part of our lives and the website Facebook is the social network of choice for most of us. However, many among us lack even the most basic common sense when using this popular social networking website.

Some users don’t even use the most basic privacy features, such as making their wall, photos and information off-limits to anyone who isn’t a “friend.” Many other people have compromising pictures of themselves on their profile holding an alcoholic beverage even though they are underage.

This may seem, at first, like a not-so-serious thing to post on your profile, however, many employers look up the Facebook profile of job applicants. If an employer were to see a prospective employee partying in almost all of their pictures, they may get the idea that they are not the type of person they want to hire for their company.

During the course of the past two weeks, I interviewed approximately 20 current Brandeis students about their use of Facebook and Internet privacy in general.

After I finished the interviews, I was somewhat shocked about the irresponsible Facebook practices of some. However, it was the general lack of the most basic computer knowledge that troubled me the most. One person that I interviewed said, “I have no idea whether I have virus protection or not on my computer.” The person in question said they relied on a friend who was a computer expert to help them.

While it is certainly good to have a friend like that, everyone should have basic computer knowledge about viruses and other programs that can not only harm your computer, but you as well by stealing something as important as your identity.

While viruses are important to be aware of, everyone should realize the new reality where companies, such as Google, can track your movements online. When I asked Brandeis students what they thought of being tracked I got a myriad of responses.

One person expressed that they were worried that it would be too easy for sketchy individuals to find them through Google maps. Another person said, “When I moved to Providence for a month, I started seeing ads for the Providence mall which bothered me greatly.” The location of that Brandeisian was most likely tracked through their IP address, which allowed companies to target them with locally relevant advertising.

Thankfully, most of the companies that track you online do it for that reason, to target you with “better advertising,” instead of actually trying to do something more. While most of us would prefer not to be tracked online by companies trying to sell us something, it is a reality that we have little control over.

However, we do have control of our Facebook privacy settings and the content of our profiles. Every Brandeisian who does not already have all of their Facebook profile privacy settings set to “friend only” should do so. This is especially important regarding your wall and your photos.

Students should also either untag themselves or place in a private album any picture where you are holding or drinking an alcoholic beverage, even if you are of age.

The use of private albums that can be seen only by a select group of people is an excellent way to keep pictures that could be compromising away from the prying eyes of employers when applying for a job. Ultimately, we as a generation need to be far less cavalier about our privacy online, and every Brandeisian should follow the advice of one person that I interviewed, “Don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of The New York Times.”