You might want to think twice before uploading that party picture to Facebook, posting private material online or sending that angry e-mail to your ex. Even once the material is deleted, it may come back to haunt you in the future.
University faculty stressed that message to an audience of about 70 people – most of them not students – at a forum on online privacy and boundaries in the Michigan Union last night.
The forum was the third in a series sponsored by University President Mary Sue Coleman’s Ethics in Public Life Initiative, a task force created two years ago to address ethical concerns at the University.
Panelists, who included representatives from The Career Center and the Athletic Department, said there is a lot of uncertainty about what happens to information after it is put on the Internet. They said it’s na’ve for students to think that only their friends are looking at their Facebook profiles because often, employers and others are looking at them too.
Kerin Borland, senior associate director of the Career Center, said about 40 percent of employers tell her they check students’ Facebook profiles.
“Facebook should be more than your scrapbook,” she said. “It’s not just a chronology of everything that happens to you,” she said.
Borland cited a survey where about 82 percent of employers responded by saying a student’s chances at being offered a job would be hindered if the employer saw something negative on an applicant’s profile.
Students can control what employers and other strangers can and cannot view by using Facebook’s privacy settings. But sometimes, the material that circulates on the Internet is out of a student’s control once it’s originally posted.
Jack Bernard, the University’s assistant general counsel, emphasized this point during the discussion by sharing a story about a student who posted “excruciating details on his genitals” online.
When told that the material was accessible to almost everyone, the student thought the delete key would make it go away. But sometimes it’s not that simple, Bernard said.
Bernard said material is easy to upload, but not as easy to erase permanently. Deleted data is often retained on a server that can be preserved and possibly accessed in the future. On top of that, other users may have copied the material before a poster has deleted it, he added.
Paul Conway, an associate professor in the School of Information, said that in the future, society might have looser standards about what is inappropriate because almost everyone will have an online past.
Conway said the technology, not the behavior of students is what’s changing.
“If you went a little crazy at 18, so what?” he said. “There are lines, but there is a tendency to be overprotective to what’s already been going on for the past 50 years,” he said.
LSA sophomore Ilana Borson said she already keeps her Facebook settings on private, but the forum taught her to be more cautious about what personal information is posted on the Internet.
“There are things I wouldn’t want my mother seeing, but I wouldn’t put anything up there I wouldn’t want my friends to see,” she said.
– Geoffrey Gaurano contributed to this report.