Private lives open to peering eyes

Imagine a world where students graduate high school with 4.0 grade point averages, 2400 SAT scores and perfectly met academic requirements, yet are still declined by universities simply because of the content of their Facebook or Myspace pages. This is the world we live in today.

It is becoming an increasingly common practice for universities and colleges to conduct web searches and background checks on prospective students. It's not just grades and extracurricular activities that count these days when applying to schools, but social networking and criminal histories! Shooting for a scholarship? Don't even bother if you've been involved in any kind of online tomfoolery.

In a 2008 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Thomas Griffin, director of undergraduate admissions at North Carolina State University, said that schools will resort to checking social networking sites if deemed necessary. "The school will do an internet search, including Facebook and other sites, if an application raises 'red flags' such as a suspension from school," said Griffin. "Several applicants a year have been rejected in part because of information on social-networking sites."

In that same WSJ interview, Nora Ganim Barnes, director of the center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, said that it's simply a matter of corporations attempting to insulate themselves against liability. "Everybody is trying to protect their brands," said Barnes.


"Brands," a term so boldly used by Mrs. Barnes to describe an academic institution, is, ironically, proving a massive point. In this day and age a university is nothing more than a business. A major concern for any moneymaking establishment, or business, is liability, and it just so happens that checking up on "status" and "about me," can help keep those institutions protected.


The most ridiculous aspect of this entire "check up," is that in the majority of the United States juvenile records are sealed, therefore online checks for incoming high school students are the only source of character references. The only way around this would be for the institutions to engage in a criminal act by obtaining such information on a minor.


SMC student David Feldman believes that this type of background check is frankly unjust. "I think it's important to see who is coming to your university and to have an idea of the type of people you're around, but nevertheless, if I was arrested three years ago for something, it's none of my professors business. Your past shouldn't haunt your education. It's a human rights violation," said Feldman.


The only justification for such a ‘human rights violation,' would be if colleges and universities were getting the information legally and without breaking past account settings. They would technically have the "right" to obtain information made public by the user, a.k.a. "prospective student."


It is the students' responsibility to remember that when they put information up online, it is no longer private and other people do have the right to see it. That said, "character judgments" gained from social networking websites should have no impact whatsoever on a university or college's determination whether to accept or deny applicants.


In other words, personal content online is in no way a representation of intellectual capabilities or academic potential, and educational institutions should therefore stay out of students' private lives.