Social networking sites a dangerous part of ‘the college experience’

March 13, 2007

Some schools have identified these sites as too controversial and have prevented access from their own networks. Still other schools have set policies that could result in student punishment if student profiles and information on the internet are identified as illegal (e.g., underage drinking, drug use) or found in violation of the school's code of conduct. One New England college expelled students based on an online group they joined that contained information concerning harming someone. Crossing to the professional world, employers have been using search engines to investigate the online behavior and base employment on their findings.

More specifically, for students in the information assurance field, juvenile indiscretions displayed online could cause those seeking employment in the local or national security fields to be delayed or even denied. How do we as a country feel about someone in a homeland security position that applies the law or ethics only on a situational basis? In spite of college policies, some students persist. Those they ask to recommend them may question their integrity when the security clearance investigator calls. If these students who lack in sound judgment tend to place these behaviors in the "college experience" bucket, they are sorely mistaken. Once it is on the internet, it is there forever. Limiting access to "friends only" is not limiting access at all. Those seeking trusted employ in the government and military (and corporations) need to consider their preparation in terms of behavior as well as academics.

Professor Catherine Wright of George Mason University specializes in computer-mediated communication and explains that "these students just do not think that anyone outside of their 20-year old world is looking. They need to think about their futures and not just in the moment." I cannot agree more.

- Danielle Zeedick is professor of computer science and information assurance, Norwich University in Northfield, Vt. She has over 17 years of industry experience supporting large business and government clients on custom networking and software development solutions.

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