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    Colleges, Universities Increasingly Review Applicants’ Social Media Postings

    I’ve written before about how postings on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social-media sites have been used against individuals. Such sites have been used to gather evidence in trials against jurors and defendants, in divorce cases, against employees (which can lead to lawsuits), politicians and high school students.

    We’ve seen it affect applicants to jobs in the United States and abroad. For a while, there was increasing focus on the practice by some employers of requiring job applicants to hand over their passwords or allow access to their private accounts on social-networking sites in order to gather personal data when the social-networking profiles are closed to the public. States including CaliforniaIllinois and Maryland passed laws to protect employees from such prying by employers; Maryland’s law includes exemptions for employers for some investigations into possible wrongdoing by employees.

    Recently, the New York Times reported that students are scrubbing their accounts in anticipation of colleges and universities reviewing the social-media postings of applicants. The social-media searches by colleges and universities have been occurring for several years. Six years ago, education services firm Kaplan surveyed 320 college and university admissions officers and found “one out of ten admissions officers has visited an applicant’s social networking Web site as part of the admissions decision-making process.” 

    In the same study, Kaplan also surveyed admissions officers at business, law and medical schools and found similar results. “Admissions officers at 9 percent of business schools, 15 percent of law schools and 14 percent of medical schools surveyed report having visited applicants’ social networking sites during the admissions decision-making process.” A 2009 study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found “one-fourth of colleges surveyed indicated that they used Web search or social networking technology to locate information about prospective students.”

    The trend seems to be toward more and more gathering of information on individuals, which means it’s smart to remember that what you say online can be heard by anyone and everyone, and it could lead to punitive actions against you.

    Here’s an excerpt from the recent New York Times story:

    Morehouse admissions officials, who occasionally dip into applicants’ public social media profiles looking for additional details about them, also found fewer provocative posts.

    “Students know college admissions departments are looking,” [said Darryl D. Isom, Morehouse’s director of admissions and recruitment]. “They are cleaning up their online profiles before they ever apply.”

    Morehouse’s experience mirrors the findings in a new report from Kaplan Test Prep. This application season fewer college officials are finding online material that could derail a student’s chance of admission, even though an increasing number of college admissions officers consider the public social media accounts of applicants as fair game. […]

    Some smaller colleges forbid their admissions officers from vetting applicants’ online activities because they view the practice as an invasive and subjective exercise that could result in unfair decisions for students. […]

    Some colleges also avoid vetting applicants online because it can be difficult to authenticate that an account belongs to the student in question.

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