Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Social Networking: The good, the bad, and the ugly

A bit of advice for new ASPers, and ASPers who don't like the web: as orientation nears, think about adding a session on the uses and abuses of social networking sites. Many ASPer's don't need this primer on social networking or why it should be addressed early in law students careers; I am writing it for those people who don't turn on their computer everyday. As ASPer's, we are often the people who address the odds and ends during orientation, and this is something that should be addressed at all law schools.  Facebook and Twitter are wonderful for keeping up with friends and family, and a great way to keep in touch with far-flung relatives and friends. If a student is pressed for time--and what law student isn't?--Facebook is a tool to keep parents updated on the status of their law student without spending hours on the phone. I use social networking myself; I am on Facebook. (Note to students and former students: I only "friend" my family and close personal friends. It's nothing personal; I keep my work life separate from my home life. Do you really want to know about my cousin's baby shower?)  This is the good of social networking. And it has other things about it that make it useful and fun; it's a great way to market yourself, as many professors use Facebook to announce professional speaking engagements, appearances, and new publications.

The bad of social networking: your online profile lives forever. Even if you erase offensive material, your page can be saved. Facebook users went into an uproar when the site announced that they owned the material on your profile, even if you deleted your profile.  While Facebook changed their policy, the legal reality is that they own the material posted while the policy was in place.  It doesn't take a computer wizard, only a little bit of computer savvy, to find material someone thought they deleted from their site. Twitter is also insidious; if someone is subscribed to your feed, tweets are saved along with all their other texts.  Cell phone companies will probably have access to tweets forever.  If you understand how the system works, it helps you warn students of the dangers of thoughtless social networking. Encourage them to erase questionable posts in their profile now, not when they think someone will be looking. Often, it's too late. 

The ugly: many of our new students have had access to social networking sites since the start of college, and colleges are just now warning students about appropriate online behavior.  How many 18 year olds know what they want to do when they grow up? Not many.  How many 18 year olds understand the ramifications of their actions? Too few. It is the very, very rare college student who understands that their screed on atheism under the quotations section of their Facebook page can torpedo any political ambitions, or the naked texts they sent to a boyfriend or girlfriend at another college can show up on their homepage after they are solo practitioners. "Sexting" is not like drunk-dialing; it lasts forever. Firms don't hire people who post pictures of themselves lying in vomit after a night of binge drinking.  We know too many law students engage in that behavior. We should be warning them that it's dangerous when they engage in that activity, but also dangerous when it is posted on the web. 

What to do? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If their online profile is not clean, orientation is the time to fix that.

-Remind students of the long-range consequences of their online profile. Give examples of the problems associated with thoughtless posts. Lost jobs, damaged reputations.

-Choose wisely when allowing someone to "friend" you. Yes, you can erase offensive posts from your wall and "uncheck" your name on a picture, but those posts still live forever in someone's memory.

-Look at the bigger picture: don't do anything you don't want your mom (or dad or little sibling) to see when they are surfing the web.  If you wouldn't want your baby sibling to see it, employers should not see it either.

(RCF)

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