Monday, December 1, 2008

Facebook is Fun, But Could It Cost You Your Job?

Over the past ten years the internet has grown to be very different from when it was first created. Websites have gone from being just textual to including images and videos, and people can now use the internet in ways that were never thought of in the past. Communication on the internet is rising, and has come to be known as CMC, or computer-mediated communication. Many websites are utilizing CMC, in particularly, increasingly popular social networking sites, or SNSs, such as MySpace and Facebook. According to boyd and Ellison (2007), social network sites are defined as “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.” This is exactly how SNSs like MySpace and Facebook work. Users created their own profile, add friends, and converse. Facebook has become one of the biggest SNSs, which according to, is the 4th most trafficked website in the world and the most trafficked social media site in the world, with more than 120 million active users. Facebook is fairly new, but has seen many changes over its four years in existence. Originally intended for college students, Facebook users can now join high school, corporate, and local networks. With so many people using Facebook and so many networks, the issue of privacy is of great importance. Due to the large number of college students using Facebook, many employers are beginning to use Facebook as a tool to screen applicants, and in some cases, these applicants have been turned down because of the content on their Facebook pages. For this reason among others, privacy on Facebook is becoming a growing issue. However, before addressing the privacy issue, it is important to understand more about what Facebook is, who uses it, and how it has changed in its four years of existence.

According to, Facebook was first launched in February of 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, under the name: The Facebook. Zuckerberg got the idea for The Facebook from his high school (Phillips Exeter Academy), where The Exeter Face Book was used by students as a way to get to know their fellow classmates. Initially, Facebook was created solely for use by Harvard students, but within two weeks, “half of the student body had signed up” (, para. 1). With the help of his friends, Zuckerberg added many college networks over the next four months, thirty to be exact. Facebook was becoming a hit with college students, and in August of 2005 it officially became Facebook was also being noticed by investors. Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal, invested $500,000 into Facebook, Accel Partners invested $12.7 million, and in a third round of funding Facebook received $25 million from Greylock Partners and Meritech capital. In September of 2006 Yahoo attempted to acquire Facebook for $1 billion dollars, which was turned down by Zuckerberg, but in October of 2007 Zuckerberg struck a deal with Microsoft, where they invested $240 million dollars into Facebook for 1.6 percent of the company. With plenty of funding, Facebook was able to continue expanding. Due to its growing popularity and demand, more colleges were added and continued to be added to Facebook’s network, and by September of 2005, Facebook opened up to high school students. Facebook later opened work networks, and by September of 2006 to anyone with an email address (

Knowledge of how Facebook was created and who uses it is not sufficient to understand the site itself. Facebook, which can be found at, is a social networking site where users must create a profile using accurate information about themselves. To keep users’ profiles secure, an email address and password must be created and used to access their profiles. Once logged in, users can choose to include or exclude information about themselves, which is grouped into four different sets of information: basic information, personal information, contact information, and education and work information. Basic information includes information about a user’s networks, sex, birthday, hometown, relationship status, political views, and religious views. Personal information is more in depth. Here users can include or exclude information about their interests, favorite movies, TV shows, music, books, quotations, and are provided with a space to write a brief description about themselves. Contact information includes information on how to contact the user. Here they can include or exclude email addresses, im screen names, phone numbers, college residence, home address, and any websites they may have. Beyond this information, users can also upload pictures and videos of themselves, as well as write on others’ walls and have their wall written on. Pictures and videos can be tagged by a user’s friends, and will end up on their profile unless they untag themselves. Pictures and videos can also be commented on. These comments, as well as any wall posts are permanent and will remain on a user’s profile unless they choose to delete them. Having a Facebook profile seems like a good way to network with friends, but if users are not careful of the material that is on their profile, it may end up in the wrong hands and possibly costing them their future.

According to Hope Samborn (2007), “Employers easily find personal information about job candidates simply by entering the applicant's name on the Google home page.” This is true, and because Facebook has a very high page rank with Google, chances are that a user’s Facebook profile will be one of the first search results. Therefore, anyone looking for information on a particular person can just search their name on Google, and if they have a Facebook profile, browse the user’s pictures and personal information. This can lead to big problems. If a college student that uses Facebook is looking for work, and their potential employer finds something on their Facebook profile that is not appropriate, they may choose to withdraw the job offer or never call the applicant in for an interview. In an article in the New York Times entitled “For Some, Online Persona Undermines a Résumé”, Alan Finder further discusses this issue. He presents a few cases of candidates that were turned down from job because of the content on their Facebook profiles. In one situation, a company president found a job candidate that looked promising, but when he checked the candidate’s Facebook profile, he found that one of the candidate’s interests was listed as “smokin’ blunts”, shooting people, and obsessive sex. This Facebook user may have posted these to be humorous to his friends, but the company president did not think it was funny and never contacted that candidate for the job. Another situation presented in Finder’s article, involved another recruiter who planned on interviewing what seemed to be a promising job applicant. The job was with a firm that taught high school students. Out of curiosity, the recruiter visited the applicant’s Facebook profile and found “explicit photographs and commentary about the student's sexual escapades, drinking and pot smoking, including testimonials from friends (Finder, 2006, para. 15).” The recruiter also found pictures of the girl passed out from drinking too much. After finding this, the applicant, like the other, was never contacted for an interview. These real life accounts show that the content of a user’s Facebook profile may be used by potential employers to determine whether or not an applicant is worth interviewing. So what can users do?

The first option for Facebook users is the obvious; don’t post anything that may get you in trouble. If users don’t upload incriminating pictures and don’t write anything ridiculous in their personal information sections, it cannot be used against them. However, there are going to be users that do not want to edit their profiles. For these users, Facebook has many privacy settings. According to Lewis, Kaufman, and Christakis (2008), users can change their settings so their profile is no longer fully accessible by non-friend same network users or no longer even searchable. The first option allows for the user to still be searched for, but other users will not be able to view their profile fully without first requesting to be their friend. This may be a good option if a user does not want people to be able to look at their pictures or read their information, but they will still be able to be searched for and companies may be to find them. The second option makes a user pretty much anonymous to everyone except for people they are friends with. A search for their name will return no results. The only other users that will be able to view their pictures, information, and wall postings will be the friends they currently have and any other users they wish to have as friends. This seems to be the best option to prevent recruiters from finding a user’s Facebook profile, and using it to determine whether or not the applicant is good for the position. If they cannot find the page, they cannot use it against you. Making a Facebook profile private seems like the second best advice for Facebook users (the first being don’t write or post anything incriminating), but is it?

According to Brandenburg (2008), companies still have ways of accessing Facebook profiles that are private. Many of the employees that are active in recruiting other students were at one time also students. They may have a Facebook account, which could aid in finding applicants on their school’s network. If they don’t, they probably still have their school email address, which is all they need to create a Facebook account. Creating this account will also help them locate applicants on their school’s network. Companies also hire current students that may have access to a particular network to get to that applicant’s Facebook profile. This seems a little extreme, but may be necessary for high-security positions, where this information is imperative.

It seems that no matter what precautions are taken, users information can still be viewed through the numerous methods presented above. Therefore, the best advice for college students is to either not become involved in social networking sites like Facebook, or monitor the content on their Facebook profile. This include what users write in their personal information, what is written on their walls, what they write on others’ walls, as well as what pictures and videos they post and are tagged in. If users do not want their Facebook profiles to lead to getting turned down for jobs this information must be monitored. Not only can what they say hurt them, but what their friends say about them may be taken even more seriously due to the relation between them. So, explicit photos and videos, incriminating interests and wall postings should all be avoided. In the event that a Facebook user is tagged or there wall is written on in any harmful way, they should untag themselves, delete the wall post, or ultimately remove the other user from their friends list.

In conclusion, the internet is very different from what it was many years ago. Websites are different and users are now in control of the information that is displayed. Computers are being used as a way to find, connect, and communicate. The increasingly popular way that internet users are connecting and communicating is through social networking sites. These SNSs give them the opportunity to create a profile, compile a list of friends, and communicate with them. One of the biggest, if not the biggest of these SNSs is Facebook. Facebook was originally intended for use by college students, but over the years has opened up to high school students, workers, and currently anyone with an email address. Anyone can be found on Facebook, and for this reason privacy is a very important issue. Most recently companies have been using Facebook as a means to screen potential applicants, and many have turned down applicants based on their findings. Users must be aware that the content they are placing on their profiles may come back to haunt them, and they should take the proper precautions of either making their profiles private or deleting the material completely if they intend on getting that job.

boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11.
Brandenburg, C. (2008). The Newest Way to Screen Job Applicants: A Social Networker's Nightmare. Federal Communications Law Journal, 60 (3), 597-626.
Facebook Company Profile. (2008). Retrieved December 1, 2008, from CrunchBase:
Finder, A. (2006). For Some, online persona undermines a résumé. New York Times. Retrieved December 1, 2008, from
Lewis, K., Kaufman, J., & Christakis, N. (2008). The Taste for Privacy: An Analysis of College Student Privacy Settings in an Online Social Network. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 79-100.
Press Room. (2008). Retrieved December 1, 2008, from Facebook:
Samborn, H. V. (2007). Go Google Yourself! ABA Journal, 93 (8), 56-56.

Why Facebook?

I was recently asked to choose a Web 2.0 medium to write an essay on. While going through my options, I stopped upon Facebook. Facebook is by far, one of the most popular thing among college students. Whether students are requesting that their classmates become their friends or just waiting for pictures of last night to be posted so they remember what happened, students are checking Facebook close to everyday. I have recently heard from many sources and through reading that companies are now using Facebook to screen applicants for the jobs they are offering. By looking at a few of my friends' profiles and a few of their friends', I realized that people do not really think about what they are including on these pages. A lot of people believe it is their freedom of speech to say what they want and post these pictures, but if it cost them their careers would they regret it? I believe that the issue needed more research and the topic, more coverage. For these reasons I decided that the Web 2.0 medium I would research and write about was Facebook.