How to practice safe social networking

Nearly a quarter of college admissions officials check out an applicants’ Facebook page.

The popularity of smart phones and social networking sites is keeping a growing number of students connected—to danger, deception, and a loss of academic or career opportunities if they aren’t careful.

Many students haven’t set secure privacy settings on their profiles, and they might not realize how easy it is for a Facebook friend to spread embarrassing content from a private profile.

Add in impulsivity, multitasking, and the ability to instantly post or text from a mobile device, and the results can be disastrous, said Sameer Hinduja, the co-director of Florida Atlantic University’s Cyberbullying Research Center.

“I’ve seen personal and professional damage occur to individuals who posted or sent something online that will plague them for the rest of their lives,” said Hinduja, an associate professor of criminology.

For example, an 18-year-old in Orlando, Fla., texted a nude photo of his 17-year-old girlfriend—and ended up on Florida’s sex offender list. A job applicant at a Miami Shores university ranted online about having to take a typing test, and lost the chance for the position.

And a 13-year-old Hillsborough, Fla., teen killed herself after sexting photos were spread around her school.

As a result, colleges and school districts say they’re making internet safety a priority in their training efforts. They’re holding workshops, adding internet safety to freshmen orientation exercises, and counseling students as they apply for colleges or jobs.