Could Facebook Keep Your Kid Out of College?
As the first generation to grow up with the Internet, our kids think nothing of revealing the most intimate details of their lives (and ours) online -- with little consideration for the consequences.
Over the years, parents have been warned about dangers kids can face online. But, with the surging popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and easy blogging tools like Tumblr and WordPress, a new threat to our kids' well-being has emerged: Reputation damage.
Stories abound about high school students being rejected from college and young professionals losing out on -- or even losing -- jobs as a result of content posted on social networking sites.
"In talking with admission officers, we've certainly heard some of the scenarios where students may use social networking negatively -- where they post photos of themselves drinking alcohol, or in some sort of setting that they wouldn't want to present to an admissions officer," Jeff Olson, vice president of Research at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, tells ParentDish.
Kaplan's 2009 survey of college admissions officers revealed about one out of 10 admissions officers had visited an applicant's social networking profile as part of the admissions decision-making process. Also, in a 2009 report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 88 percent of admission officers surveyed said they believed social media was either "somewhat" or "very" important to their future recruitment efforts.
And, in a webcast presented last year by The Wall Street Journal, admission officers from several schools directly addressed the topic of social networking posts as a factor in college rejection.
"If there is something that is compromising on your Facebook page, or that you have done on the Web that you may not be proud of, you should probably do everything you can to clean that up before you get into the admissions process," Janet Rapelye, dean of admission at Princeton University, advises in the video.
Kids, teens and young adults in the United States spend time online in staggering numbers -- 93 percent of kids ages 12 to 17, and young adults ages 18 to 29 -- use the Internet, according to a September 2009 Pew Research Center report. But in reality, Internet use starts much earlier.
By law, any site that collects personal information from kids under the age of 13 must comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998. They must obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children and maintain the confidentiality, security and integrity of the information they collect.
However, these guaranteed protections go out the window when a child turns 13. And, in reality, younger kids can register for any site using false information, gaining access to chat rooms, discussion forums and social networks where their privacy -- and yours -- can be compromised.
The bottom line? Your kids and tweens might already be creating an online trail that could haunt them for years to come. So what should you do?
Enter a whole new field of business expertise: Online reputation management.
A major player in the industry, ReputationDefender addresses reputations of individuals from children as young as 5 or 6 through young professionals planning their next career moves, company CEO Michael Fertik tells ParentDish.
Parents of kids and teens can subscribe to the company's MyChild product for $14.95 per month, with a similar service available to those 18 and older. These Web-based applications search the Internet for references to a child via their last name, city, e-mail addresses and screen names.
"It's not just Google alerts," Fertik tells ParentDish. "It's a deep dive. Most of the Internet is not indexed by search engines, so our tools troll discussion forums and social media that are not as easily accessed."
Much of the negative content found via MyChild typically is either mean things other kids have said about the client, or "dumb" things kids have said about themselves, Fertik says. In most cases, parents are able to get the content removed without professional intervention.
In many cases, however, the issue for high school and college students and young professionals is that there is little or no useful information about them available online -- or someone else with the same name dominates search results -- which some schools and employers use in assessing their suitability.
To this end, companies such as ReputationDefender and Brand-Yourself -- a business formed two years ago by Syracuse University graduates -- offer services to help ensure individuals are portrayed well on the Web.
"For some of the college kids, it'll click, and they'll realize they need to clean up their Facebook profile," Brand-Yourself partner and chief marketing officer Patrick Ambron tells ParentDish. "But it doesn't occur to them that they're missing an opportunity to basically separate themselves with positive online representation."
Earlier this year, Syracuse University announced it had purchased six-month subscriptions to the Brand-Yourself's service for all 4,100 of its graduating seniors to "help students monitor and shape their online presence during the job search process."
CareerBuilder.com, the largest online job site in the United States, details the lengths employers will go to to dig up "digital dirt" on applicants, reporting that 70 percent of U.S. hiring managers surveyed have rejected job applicants based on information about the candidate they found online.
With those kinds of statistics, you may want to check your own Google grade first.
Related: PTA Joins with Facebook to Promote Internet Safety
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.