Social media kids: 'Perfect profile' may help with college(Read article summary)
Social media requires profile management and editing a kids online persona is necessary, if they don't want their profiles affecting college admissions or job opportunities. Online spin control may be more important than we all thought.
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File
High school students are displaying serious online spin control skills in their college quests. Itâ€™s more like â€śpublic image managementâ€ť than the reputation management so often referred to in online-safety discussions. In an interview forÂ ReadWriteWeb.com, a high school teacher in Reno, Nev., called it â€śadmissions jiu jitsu,â€ť referring to his studentsâ€™ workarounds for college and university admissions officesâ€™ growing scrutiny of studentsâ€™ social media profiles.
Though this is getting more and more parental and political attention, it isnâ€™t new. I first wrote about theÂ fictionalizing of social network profilesÂ back in mid-2008, picking up on a paper by UK researcher and psychology professor Sonia Livingstone, who noticed that in many cases whatâ€™s seen in a profile is more a â€śplaceholderâ€ť in a string of interaction between members of a peer network than a self-portrait or act of self-disclosure. The ReadWriteWeb piece (or its source) suggests that profile embellishing is a kind of deception, as in gaming a system in which adults are â€śdigging for dirtâ€ť in what students see as their personal lives. Deception could certainly be the aim in some cases, but â€“ as Dr. Livingstone shows â€“ that view comes from the self-portrait perspective (that many adults have), the belief that a social network profile is just self-presentation. It doesnâ€™t factor in other key properties of social media â€“ the very individual, contextual, and dynamic nature of using it (expressed in Livingstoneâ€™s placeholder observation) â€“ which point to a whole spectrum of intention and non-intention.
Array of image-management tactics
Beyond embellishment, a number of other image-management tactics have emerged. One is having another profile altogether â€“ the â€śideal-self profile.â€ť Others include hiding oneâ€™s profile behind an alias or â€śamping up privacy settings,â€ť as ReadWriteWeb put it. Some students deactivate their accounts for a while â€“ leaving all their data and contacts intact but just unfindable for that period of time (which weâ€™re now seeing can also raise suspicion about what they might be hiding).Â Social media researcher danah boyd describedÂ another, extremely short-term deactivation tactic that wasnâ€™t aimed at college admission at all, but rather control (not just of privacy): A student would deactivate her Facebook account every time she logged off, so that â€śno one [could] post messages on her wall or send her messages privately or browse her content,â€ť danah wrote in 2010.
Expert views cited byÂ eCampusNews.comÂ donâ€™t discourage such workarounds. â€śCollege applicants shouldnâ€™t shut down their various social media accounts.â€ť What they should do is â€śheavily edit their online comments, photos, and videos.â€ť The article pointed to fresh data on admissions practices, showing that â€śthe percentage of applications that had been negatively affected by social media searches had nearly tripled, from 12% in 2010 to 35% in 2011.â€ť
Have a presence in social media
Note the point about not shutting down social media. ReadWriteWeb heard the same thing from its sources: â€śFacebook is still popular enough that a college admissions official will raise a red flag if a kid claims he or she isnâ€™t on Facebook.â€ť Not using social media isnâ€™t something to be (or act) proud of, where admissions and scholarships are concerned.
And scholarship providers are checking profiles too. A survey of members of the National Scholarship Providers Association found that one-quarter had â€śsearched Google and social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn for information about applicants [though usually only on finalists],â€ť one-third â€śdenied a scholarship to a student based on their findings,â€ť and one-quarter of the scholarship providers doing those searches â€śgave a scholarship based on information gleaned online,â€ť eCampusNews.com reports.
Seeking positive more than negative
The positive part of that was seen by Bridgewater State University psychology professor Elizabeth Englander too, when she looked into admissions officesâ€™ approaches. She found that, â€śalthough college admissions officers did say they looked applicants up online, they said they were generally looking forÂ positiveÂ things about the kids [emphasis hers], and that thatâ€™s what they usually found,â€ť she wrote in an email. â€śThe negative problems that they really reacted to were the more extreme problems â€“ evidence of serious substance abuse, or having joined a hate group, or posting videos of themselves engaging in crimes or violence.â€ť
- Celebrities fictionalize their profiles too â€“ maybe theyâ€™ve taken some cues from their kids. Reporting on it last spring as if it were something new,Â BloombergÂ called it â€śsecurity by confusion.â€ť
- â€śOnline spin control: Who does it best? Us!â€ť
- â€ś81% of teens use privacy settings: Studyâ€ť
- â€śOnline reputation management: Getting smarter, Pew saysâ€ť
- A 2008Â postÂ about universitiesâ€™ own spin on the Web to attract students.
- A 2007Â postÂ about public image management online