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Advice to college bloggers: 'Wipe your slate clean, literally'


San Antonio Express-News (07/12/2006)
By Ken Rodriguez

SAN MARCOS, TEXAS — Curt Schafer worries about the job-hunting, party-going college student who lacks online discretion.

The one who posts incriminating information about his drinking habits in Web logs. The one who shows too much skin in her cyber photo gallery. The one who unwittingly torpedoes job prospects with a single line in a Facebook.com profile: “My major is getting high.”

“It's very tempting and easy for an employer to Google you,” says Schafer, the career services director at Texas State University. “The sad thing is, you won't ever know they did it. That you were dismissed (from job consideration) because of your profile.”

His advice: “Wipe your slate clean, literally.”

Schafer is not the moral Gestapo at Texas State. He does not troll Facebook.com, looking to bust self-professed drunks and pot smokers.

But he and other college counselors — in San Antonio and across the country — are warning students: Indiscreet cyber postings can kill job opportunities.

Last week, I reported snippets from online profiles that may come back to haunt.

“Oh wow im getting wasted tonight” was the oft-used phrase of one Texas State University student.

“Sex-C dancer” was the online ID of a University of Houston sophomore.

When I called the University of Texas at San Antonio to ask about indiscreet bloggings, a spokesman replied, “I wondered when somebody was going to write about this.”

The spokesman directed me to Barry McKinney, the associate director of student activities. Among other things, McKinney educates the uninformed.

My Facebook profile is private.

No it's not.
Who am I hurting with pictures of me passed out drunk?

Potentially yourself.
What employer may want to snoop through Facebook?

Police. School districts. Law firms. Public relations companies. Major businesses, to name a few.
McKinney says he does not police Facebook postings. But he has an account on the site and does browse. “It's my job to advise,” he says.

He recalls a conversation with a student who didn't know how his profile could be used against him. “At the end, he thanked me for taking the time to explain things and look out for him,” McKinney says.

Plenty of students need advice. The other night, I found a profile for Travis. Included were more than a dozen photographs, all but one showing him with alcohol or standing in front of a pyramid of 21 beer cans.

The exception was a picture of Travis extending his middle finger to the camera.

Travis might be surprised to know the pictures could land on the screen of a job recruiter. He might be shocked to learn his professors have probably seen them.

Norma Guerra Gaier asked her communications class at St. Mary's University about Facebook. Virtually everyone had a profile. Then Gaier mentioned she had an account.

“Their eyes got really big,” she recalls. “They said, ‘So you've seen our stuff?’ A week later they said, ‘You can go back to our profiles. We've cleaned them up.’ They were shocked that I would go online and look.”

Gaier is not only a professor. She's the university's career services director. Which means she dispenses advice on the risks of Facebook and other social networking sites.

“We aren't saying you shouldn't use them,” Gaier says. “But students should be aware this is an open forum. Keep it healthy.”

Back in the day, a college counselor's biggest worry was a regrettable answering machine message: “Got a kegger goin'. Can't come to the phone. Later.”

But now there are legions of clueless students, posting stuff in cyberspace that makes a keg party sound Disney-like.

Chilling? Consider another emerging trend. Some small colleges, counselors tell me, are using MySpace.com profiles to screen high school applicants.

In other words, the virtual porn a National Merit Finalist posts online could keep him or her out of an elite college.