Admitting The Virtual Identity
By Karam Johal
For most of us, this is that time of the year when, after logging onto Facebook, we don’t recognize several of the names on our dashboard and wonder, confusedly, who all these friends are. That’s because it is college applications time, whether it be for undergrad admission or beyond.
Many universities are making it a habit these days to check the social media profiles of some (or all) of its applicants in order to see whether they might find anything that would compromise the student’s admission to the school. Usually this kind of thing would be pictures or posts related to alcohol, drugs, partying or crime. Prospective students respond by changing their names on Facebook, or hiding and untagging the compromising pictures and posts.
Should students have to regulate their personal lives in order to increase their chances of going to college? Do colleges have a right to impose this pressure and policing?
My answer is no. Some colleges consider searching for a student’s social media profile to be an infringement of privacy; most universities don’t have a formal policy on this matter at all. The fate of potential students is already left to the whim of a faceless, unnamed admissions officers who makes decisions at their discretion. Now admissions officers are going beyond the application material to look for misleading, selective and likely irrelevant information online?
Even if admissions officers did find jeopardizing information online, they have no way of knowing the context of what they might find, and if they were to refuse admission to students based on that information they are making assumptions about the student’s behavior patterns and self-control.
Context is important, for people have private lives and they have “professional” lives — or in this case, educational lives. If students have proven themselves to possess the academic prowess to excel at the university, their personal activities are likely compatible with their academic success and should not be cause for rejection.
Therefore, online activities are not necessarily an accurate representation of the student. Isolated incidents and out-of-context remarks flood networks like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram (although college admissions officers seem to favor Facebook in their searches).
Colleges are denying students the opportunity to consciously present themselves in the best light, which is the purpose of all kinds of applications. If they want to use social media to get to know a student better without having to conduct face-to-face interviews, isn’t that why professional social media sites like LinkedIn exist?
People have a right to have a private life free from scrutiny; that’s why it’s called a “private” life.
Of course, college admissions officers are not the only culprits in this. The same situation exists in the job market. Employers tend to look up social media information of potential employees before making hiring decisions. How are their online social profiles relevant to their professional skills and etiquette?
Ultimately, the act of turning to social media for a factor in decision-making is an invasion of privacy, a form of regulating private lives and expression, and often just plain inaccurate and misleading.
Karam Johal is a fourth-year women’s studies major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.