Campus Life

Summertime and Social Media

Summertime, and the livin' is easy. That's what George Gershwin said. So, how easy has your livin' been this summer so far? Granted, most high schoolers and college students these days have been working summer jobs to help defray some of those actual or anticipated astronomical college costs, not to mention the cost of gasoline and other inflationary aspects of everyday life.

No matter your age or where you live, chances are you love summer time. The warm months mean you have more time to spend with friends, living a carefree life filled with trips, parties, and unending fun. If you're like most young adults, you or your friends relive these moments by posting photos, videos, status updates, and other reminders of your summer activities on your social networking profiles.

Next time you go to upload an album of your bonfire on the beach to Facebook or Flickr, though, first pause to consider the potential consequences. Do any of the photos depict actions that are illegal or that would make a potential employer think twice about hiring you?

In reality, your online profiles are never as private as you like to think. The summer's hottest trend in social networking is the new Google +. There's endless talk about who's on it and who's not, whether it can surpass Facebook as the number one social network, and what its capabilities are. But do you know anything about its privacy and data sharing policies? Probably not.

A carefree summer attitude—and the behaviors that accompany it—can have a lasting impact on your online reputation. The bottom line is that it's better to be safe than sorry. If you're unsure about a social network's privacy settings, refrain from posting content or allowing your friends to tag you in their photos, status updates, Tweets, etc. until you're sure your profile is as secure as possible.

You haven't worked this hard during the rest of the year to have your chances of landing your dream job diminished because of summertime behaviors that lead to a photo in bad taste, a status hijack, or an incriminating Tweet. Here are some tips to help you keep your summer fun private, and your online reputation untarnished.

- Strong passwords are an essential first step to keeping your social networking profiles private. This means not just password protecting your laptop or PC, but also your mobile device if you use it to access social networks. According to a 2010 study by Internet security provider AVG Technologies, 78 percent of Americans ages 18-25 use passwords to secure their laptops, but only 41 percent do the same for their mobile phones.

- When setting your password, keep it private and don't share it with anyone. The same AVG study found that 35 percent of users share their passwords with friends. Nearly half of women in this age group (42 percent) share their passwords, whereas only 28 percent of men do.

- If you can't imagine your summer fun without posting the photographic evidence online, take precautions to protect your reputation and that of your friends by adding safety defaults. For example, Android users can download an app that anonymizes photos by blurring out faces.

- Familiarize yourself with the privacy policies of any social networks you're a part of. This means not just Facebook and Twitter, but any site that relies on your personal information. Also, be aware that their privacy policies are often changing and being updated. For example, Groupon recently changed its policies so that it collects (and shares) more personal data than before.

- Even if you've done your part to keep your account settings private and ensured that the content on your profile is acceptable for everyone to view, you could still be a target of hackers. To prevent your friends, followers, or contacts from being spammed, keep your PC protected with a strong antivirus software, such as AVG Free. This product comes with social networking protection to keep your profiles extra secure.

So, I hope you can see some of the hazards of "carefree" summer living. It's summertime, and the livin' can be easy . . . and a little dangerous, if you're not careful.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.