Posting on Facebook and other social networks is a favorite pastime for teens and 20somethings. It's a great way for families to keep in touch - but recent headlines have yielded some caveats that have nothing to do with the usual “predators lurk everywhere” issues. Here are five Facebook dangers your college kid or young adult may never have thought about.
- Facebook and college admissions: It's a bad idea to post dicey photos or racy prose on social networking sites, no matter how private teens may think they are. According to a 2012 study by Kaplan, 27% of college admissions officers routinely do Google searches on applicants and 26% check Facebook - and 35% found posts and pictures that reflected poorly on those prospective students. Those are startling numbers. When Kaplan first started doing this study in 2008, just 10% of college admissions officers even bothered to look. Now they're not only looking to see what kind of person an applicant is, they're keeping their eyes peeled for inappropriate behavior - provocative poses, hard partying photos and illegal behavior, yes, but also cheating, plagiarism, vulgarity and what many officials described as things that made them "wonder."
- Grad school and careers: Business and medical school admissions officers surf social networking sites in even greater numbers than their undergrad brethren. So do prospective employers, none of whom are impressed by posts that holler “Par-tay! Woo hoo!”
- Fellow students: It’s not just admissions officers doing the surfing. Some upperclassmen at the University of Redlands were so incensed by partying comments made by several incoming freshmen on the Redlands Facebook group site, they showed the posts to college officials. College administrators said they called the teens’ parents a few weeks before school began to have a little talk.
- Courtroom consequences: Unfortunate Facebook postings can have serious legal repercussions too. One of the first things attorneys do with a new case is searching online for information about plaintiffs, defendants, and witnesses alike. In one Rhode Island case, a 20-year-old’s drunk driving accident, which severely injured another youth, could have resulted in a relatively light stint at the county jail or the considerably more severe state prison. But, as the prosecutor in the case quickly discovered, two weeks after the accident, while his victim was still in the hospital, the youth posted photos on Facebook of himself at a Halloween party, prancing around in a prisoner costume. He was sentenced to two years in state prison. In 2013, a California 18-year-old driver accused of hitting and killing a bicyclist was initially charged with vehicular manslaughter, but the charge was upgraded to murder after prosecutors found his Twitter feed bragging about driving 140 mph on Highway 5 and inviting followers to "come on a death ride with me."
- Child pornography charges: Posting or sending photos of oneself or friends in scanty clothing or sexually suggestive poses may be a popular pastime among the younger set, but if any of the people posting are under 18, the practice may result in child pornography charges. There have been several such cases, including an Ohio 15-year-old who was charged with child pornography after sending nude cell phone images of herself to friends. At the time, officials in Licking County considered charging recipients of those images as well. It's one thing to be charged with sending or receiving child pornography as a minor, but those charges in adult court may carry not only prison time but a lifetime of registering as a sex offender.