Facebook: From Social to Public Setting

Introduction:

 

As technological enhancements continue to shape the world that we live in today, forms of communication and public interaction are constantly evolving.  Everyday people are capable of sending uncensored and unedited information to a mass audience without the slightest regard for who is reading the information that is being shared, and how it is being interpreted.  While these forums for communications continue to develop, many debate about the affect that this is having on society.  Some positive aspects of having the freedom to easily publicize information are that people are capable of expressing their opinions and gaining feedback from a wide variety of sources.  People are also able to present their statements and fully exercise their freedom of speech to the World Wide Web.  At the same time, the problems that many users may face stem from their inability to fully understand how the information that is being publicized will be received by the given audience.  Since the internet is open to anyone to use, information that is shared to the public is not being presented to one specific audience; on the contrary every possible audience with a wide variety of perspectives are interpreting the messages that are being published.  Seeing that the phenomenon of broadcasting information to a mass audience over the internet is less than a decade old, many are ignorant of the repercussions of publishing personal information to an audience with limitless perspectives.  It is therefore imperative that internet users, especially college students who are preparing to enter an extremely competitive job market, are aware of how the information that they are presenting is being received, and by whom.

To further understand the reception of publicized messages over the internet, I focused on the immensely popular social networking site, Facebook.  Facebook is a website that allows users to create a profile to represent them and link to their friends profiles.  On these profiles people post pictures, comment on friends’ walls and photos, and offer continuous status updates.  Facebook is an enormous networking forum as it has vastly grown since its launch in February 2004.  Statistics regarding the popularity and strength of this website include:

  • More than 400 million active users
  • More than 60 million status updates posted each day
  • More than 3 billion photos uploaded to the site each month
  • More than 5 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, photo albums, etc.) shared each week
  • More than 1.5 million local businesses have active Pages on Facebook
  • Average user has 130 friends on the site
  • More than 70 translations available on the site
  • About 70% of Facebook users are outside the United States[1]

Clearly Facebook’s popularity offers users the ability to reach a wide range of people across the world.  The millions of users also expand the number of perspectives that are collected onto this one site.

One of the key things that people need to realize is that a website that generates information about this many people is an extremely useful data collecting tool for human resource offices for business companies.  HR offices review job applications and determine whether or not the applicant should be hired to work for the company.  After speaking with a number of HR professionals, it is clear that they feel limited in the amount of information that they can use to determine which job applicant is worthy of a position.  A lot of the time they get a one page resume and maybe a few hours of interviews to determine whether the person applying for the job can fit in with the company, and potentially make a career there.  It is therefore extremely helpful for HR offices to receive any extra information possible when making decisions on applicants.  These social networking sites are developing into sources for just that type of information.  Adriel Hamptom’s article, “Recruiting and Vetting Job Candidates Using Social Tools,” analyzes the interaction between social networking sites and the job market.  She quotes Carly Brandenburg’s article, “The Newest Way to Screen Job Applicants: A Social Networker’s Nightmare,” discussing the trend that HR offices are following regarding information provided by social networking sites.  “She cites a study by CareerBuilder.com (widely cited on this topic) that surveyed 1,150 hiring managers nationwide, in which 12 percent said they had searched for applicants on social sites.  Of those, 63 percent reportedly did not hire based on what they found with those searches.”[2] While 12% may not appear to be a massive number, the fact that people are actually using these sites to collect information that will determine a job status should raise eyebrows.  Facebook was created in 2004; it is a young website that is constantly growing.  After speaking with HR firms it is clear that they are aware that information presented on social networking sites is public, and they are beginning to take this into consideration.  HR firms’ use of this information will only increase.  This means that their interpretation of the messages published on the web is crucial for many applicants.  It is therefore imperative that college students who are preparing to enter the job market are aware of how their publicized messages are being received, and what is considered inappropriate on major social networking sites, such as Facebook.  With interviews and surveys with various students and business professionals, this report will reveal what is considered to be appropriate and inappropriate when publicizing information on Facebook.  It will also help to clarify how business professionals interprets different types of methods while offering advice to students on how to professionally represent themselves as we continue to explore the world of online social networking.

Research:

Information was gathered primarily through field research.  To start I chose an assortment of 10 different Facebook statuses that would be used for the interview subjects to analyze.  I had college students and business/HR professionals rate the statuses on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most inappropriate, and 1 being the most appropriate.  Once the subjects filled out the survey I interviewed them with questions regarding their definition of appropriateness in a public setting, and their reasons for rating the statuses the way they did.  There were also various readings that offer perspectives on effects of social networking sites in the world today.

When determining the subjects to interview I had to rely on personal connections to reach out to the business professionals, and I interviewed close friends and relatives for the student subjects.  I interviewed or surveyed eight college students, six business professionals, and four adults.  I determined that the subjects would fall under the business professionals’ category if their job at some point required them to make employment decisions, and I expected them to view the surveys from the perspective of these statuses reflecting potential job applicants.  Most of my data reflects the views of these subjects.  There are many cases throughout my findings that suggest to me that students may be ignorant about the use of privacy settings.  It is important to note that while my findings may reveal this assumption, there are other documents that suggest otherwise.[3]

The survey that all subjects filled out contained the following 10 statuses (they were not censored when published on Facebook):

  1. “Shawty play your role, we slammin phantom doors.”
  2. “Just saw one of the cooks grabbing a female dining hall worker’s a**.  WELL WHO SAYS ROMANCE IS DEAD!? Happy Valentine’s Day kids.”
  3. “Is here to f*** sh** up”
  4. “Addiction Party tonight @ Passions open bar 10:30-12 free entrance and live performance by Smokey ‘what them girls like’…..backdoor by the elevators!!!”
  5. “Investment Talk/Wine and Cheese Social Today @ The Sports Bar of The 500 Brickell Building Complex. Starts at 7:00PM sharp.  You’re invited!”
  6. “And For the, the Haters .. I Got a Finger in the Middle of My Hand That Explains How I Feel if You Don’t Understand.”
  7. “Is willing to pay $10 for someone to reconstruct their face to look like me…study all my notes…and take my lab practical for anatomy and physiology by tomorrow…let me know wants to do it..I’m willing to go up to $11”
  8. “Crazy night last night.  If you had an encounter with me, hopefully I provided some entertainment for you and your friends.”
  9. “It’s Saturday so u know the drill……Slippin’ Saturdays Tep /101”

10.  “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker…change of plans, going to sTD’s tonight.  See what I did there?  Bahahaha”

These surveys helped show various averages that would reveal differences between the opinions of the categorized subjects.  Since the ratings were on a scale of 1-10, a minor difference of decimal points was not given high regard.  I learned a lot from the averages that were either 2-3 full points apart, or that differed between the middle regions of the 1-10 scale.  Some statuses received average ratings from business professionals of higher than a five while students gave the same status an average rating lower than a five.  This revealed a stronger discrepancy because it showed that students thought this status deserved a rating on the below average level of inappropriateness while business professionals felt it was above average level of inappropriateness.

Hypothesis

As a student and frequent user of Facebook, I am assuming that the average student user does not strongly consider the inappropriateness factor of the information that they publish.  Due to the subjects that I interviewed and my personal experiences, I felt that most students consider Facebook to be a social site where you can post personal information and not have to deal with any major repercussions.  I do not assume that students take the publicity of Facebook very seriously, and they would think that its primary function is to entertain.  With this in mind I expect the students’ ratings of the statuses to have a lower average than the business professionals as they will prove to me more liberal.

On the other hand, I expect professionals to be extremely conservative.  These subjects took the perspective as viewing the statuses as information about potential job candidates who are applying to represent their company.  They, therefore, would be more defensive about publicized information that could potentially reveal personal information about people who work for and make their company function.  This leads me to the belief that their ratings will be much more conservative as they will give the statuses higher ratings of inappropriateness.  I am expecting that revealing a major difference between the students and professionals groups will help provide students with clarity of how different their perspective is from professional opinions.  This will hopefully open their eyes to the effect that their published information has on their lives.  It will also offer further guidance by revealing what is considered appropriate and inappropriate.

 

Social Networking Landscape

As popular as social networking sites have become, they are still extremely young and new to the world.  These sites are continuously developing and being incorporated into the world’s social landscape.  All of the effects that they are having on society today are only the beginning; and people can expect these effects to further develop as time goes by.  With this in mind, it is crucial that users of these sites are aware of what path that social networking is heading towards, and how to expect to interact with these forums in the future.  Publicized information on social networking sites is definitely expected to continue to be incorporated in the job market.  A Tennessee Journalist article written by Ashley Cerasaro titled Employers defy privacy by using Facebook, offers an insight into the landscape of the interaction between Facebook and the job market.  Some of the information presented in this article reveals how employers are using these sites to determine employment status.  “A survey from Toronto, Canada found 12 percent of employers always or usually use online job search engines and social networking sites to research job candidates. Only 32 percent report they do so on occasion. The information on the survey came from 281 hiring managers and human resource professionals, and 511 workers.”[4] This is more proof that information displayed on social networking sites is being used to determine whether or not someone will be hired for a job.  This trend is only beginning now; soon these sites will become an extremely popular and useful tool for employers.  The article goes on to show how already people are beginning to realize the potential for information that is created by these websites.  “The survey also reported approximately 19 percent of employers say they are likely to start using or increase their use of these resources to research job candidates in 2008.”[5] This reveals that information provided on social networking sites is gaining popularity in the eyes of potential employers and HR offices.  The usefulness of this information is too enticing to pass up and can help a lot of offices gain information about their job candidates.

Jeffrey Kirschner is a human resources consultant who has experience in the HR field and believes that publicizing information on sites such as Facebook should not be taken lightly because it can eventually be used against the person.  In an interview with Kirschner he explained about how when he was consulting a with a  major company he saw how published information on the web can affect employers.  In this case there was a growing concern in the company about an executive whom they eventually researched on Google and found an inappropriate blog that was used heavily against him.  It is evident through this scenario that personal information on the internet is not private and can be used against you.

Kirschner clearly has experience with the effects that distributing personal information over the internet can have on people in the professional world.  He said “Don’t put anything out there that you wouldn’t want your mother or employer to read,” and continued to predict that employer’s “ability to get data on people will only become more intrusive.”[6] He goes on to point out that any information posted on Facebook is owned by Facebook.  Kirschner says, “Expectation of privacy is really non-existent in the digital world.”[7] Kirschner believes that Facebook is therefore free to do anything they want with the statements and photos that are published.[8] He predicts that eventually Facebook will be in a position where they can monetize the information that they own and sell it to HR offices and major companies.  Given the recent trend of employers increasingly using the published information as further research into job candidates, it is clear that the demand for such a product is quickly on the rise.  Cerasaro’s article goes on to point out how another survey displayed more employers using this form of information.  “Vault.com’s Social Networking Web Site Survey of 700 employers showed 44 percent are using social networking sites as an informal part of the referencing process.”[9] The demand is growing, and people need to be aware of this.

 

Professional Perspective

One of the key aspects of Facebook that students need to be aware of is the vast amount of perspectives that their information is open to.  Public information can be interpreted in various ways by numerous people.  With this in mind, it is essential that young potential job applicants have a firm grasp of the perspectives that professional workers and human resource managers have when viewing information on social networking sites.  This is crucial because ultimately their opinion is what matters when an employment decision is made.

It is important to note that these professional subjects understand that these statements on Facebook are meant to be made in a social setting amongst friends.  Through various interviews human resource managers have made it clear to me that personally they feel torn between how to view these publicized statements because they do not want to invade other people’s privacy; but at the same time they know that information on these sites is public, and therefore very important to them.  Publicized information is important for various reasons.  Students should note that these statuses are more than little jokes or blurbs in a social environment.  They are documented statements that represent the person and help reveal what the person represents.  One of the reasons employers find this information to be important is because they do not want their employees representing the company in an inappropriate manner.  With this in mind, professionals can view these statements and determine that they do not want their company to be portrayed publicly in the manner that the user is expressing.

Beyond company representation, another reason the published information is important to professionals is because of the insight that it offers them into the potential job applicant.  Richard Ridenour, the senior director of payroll, benefits, and risk management for Williamson Dickies, discusses how one of the most important factors in the job hiring process is the first impression, and he views the statuses as potential first impressions.  “When I’m looking or interviewing a person, I don’t know that person.  When I don’t know that person I have to make a decision based on what I see.  The first impression is critical and it’s hard to fix.”[10] Ridenour goes on to explain how he believes that since Facebook is public that the information that is revealed on the websites works as a representation of the person.  He says that if the publicized information is considered inappropriate then it creates a negative first impression for the person.  Ridenour compares the shared statements on Facebook to a professional resume.  “Publicizing the information means that they should take the time to care about what they say like they would in a resume.”[11] The reason that Ridenour believes this is because of the representation factor.  Ridenour, just like many professional businesses, considers how their company is being represented in extremely high regard.  When applicants apply for a job they work hard on preparing their resumes so they can show the people that they are applying to that they will represent their company in an extremely professional manner.  Students need to be aware that because of the evolving social landscape that social networking sites are continuously developing, professional representation expands further than just a resume.  Now that information is so easily documented publicly, companies have to be even more aware of the different ways that their employees are capable of presenting themselves.  This, in turn, means that it is critical for students who are entering the job market to understand how their statuses are being viewed, and what is being considered inappropriate.

With such a wide variety of perspectives on Facebook, the definition of inappropriate is completely open to interpretation.  Topics that appear to be universally regarded as inappropriate in an online public setting include prejudice or racist statements, vulgar language, and sexual comments.  When I asked human resource managers and professionals in charge of hiring employees what they considered to be inappropriate in a public setting they also included glorification of alcohol or drugs and improper grammar.  The reasoning for these added criteria for appropriateness was further explained with some of the examples of Facebook statuses that were used when subjects were asked to give them ratings of appropriateness.

The first status that stirred up controversy had to do with sexual harassment.  The status said, “Just saw one of the cooks grabbing a female dining hall worker’s a**.  WELL WHO SAYS ROMANCE IS DEAD!? Happy Valentine’s Day kids.”  After speaking with a human resource manager in the sports and entertainment business, it is clear that this status reveals more to professionals than just an inappropriate joke.  The sports and entertainment HR manager said that a statement like this would offer professionals insight into the type of behavior that a person might approve of.  This Facebook status is making light of a situation where sexual harassment occurred.  To the HR manager this statement “is representing how a person would behave.”[12] The HR manager went on to ask, “Are they going to behave that way or think it’s funny in a work place?  Will they make a joke of sexual harassment in the work place?”

This status reveals how students need to be aware that some of their statements which can be considered simple and lighthearted can give off an inaccurate representation when they involve controversial issues.  One simple status raised extremely pressing questions for a professional human resource manager.  These types of questions will generate an exceptionally negative first impression.  Just as Richard Ridenour pointed out, first impressions are very important when determining the status of a job applicant.  Ridenour said, “First impressions affect the business.  If you want to differentiate yourself from someone else you want to do it in a positive way, not a negative way.”[13] Ridenour goes on to point out that negative first impressions are extremely hard to recover from and that it is a shame when a more qualified applicant misses out on a job opportunity because they are completely disregarded based on the first impression that they create.  This not only reveals how to recognize when a status is inappropriate, but it also proves that inappropriate publicized statements can directly affect a job applicants chances of being hired.  As students enter the enormously competitive job market they need to be aware of how these statements will affect them.

Another set of statuses which raise an important issue are two advertisements.  The first status says, “Addiction Party tonight @ Passions open bar 10:30-12 free entrance and live performance by Smokey ‘what them girls like’…..backdoor by the elevators!!!”  The second advertisement said, “Investment Talk/Wine and Cheese Social Today @ The Sports Bar of The 500 Brickell Building Complex. Starts at 7:00PM sharp.  You’re invited!”  Both of these statuses can be considered similar regarding their subject because they are both advertising an event.

When considering the level of inappropriateness for these statuses, many may be quick to disregard them and give them a lower rating because they are simply advertising an event.  The professional managers’ and employers’ ratings reveal that the context of the advertisement does in fact affect the level of appropriateness.  Students who rated the Facebook statuses in the survey that I gave them gave the first status an average rating of 3.75, while workers grouped in the professional segment of the survey gave that status an average rating of 6.83.

Two issues were raised about this advertisement when I asked human resource managers why they gave it the rating that they chose.  The first was discussed by Ridenour who explained how the wording was extremely unprofessional.  When explaining why he would give this status a high rating he said, “Because of the words they used, their diction, that had an effect.”[14] Ridenour goes on to explain how professionalism in a public setting is extremely important, especially if the message being conveyed is meant to be an advertisement.

Beyond the unprofessional tone of the status, the human resource manager for the sports and entertainment industry explains how the context of the advertisement is what provoked her to give the status a higher rating than the other advertisement.  “What you’re advertising does matter.  One [status] sounds productive and intellectual while the other sounds like a party.  Subconsciously it does change your opinion on the advertisement.  Students should realize that what they’re advertising or promoting is a reflection on them so they need to watch their wording.”[15] This shows how students can get in trouble with the way they promote certain things on Facebook.  Deciding whether or not an event is appropriate may be hard to determine because an advertisement can be focused on a particular group that does not find certain events as offensive as other groups.  However, the way they present an event can help improve the appropriateness of the statement, and lessen the impact of an event being viewed in a negative manner.

The key factor that needs to be recognized is the significance of choosing the proper way to promote something.  This connects back to the point that Ridenour made about taking the time to care about what and how one would say something when it is published for a mass audience.  If students are going to promote events that center around alcohol and partying many adults and professional workers may either take offense to, or look down upon such behavior.  It is therefore essential that students take the time to choose their words wisely and present themselves in a professional manner.  The status that said, “Investment Talk/Wine and Cheese Social Today @ The Sports Bar of The 500 Brickell Building Complex. Starts at 7:00PM sharp.  You’re invited!” also promoted activities involving drinking at a bar, but this status received an average rating of 1.17 from the business professionals.  The reason that this rating was regarded as extremely appropriate was because of the way it was presented.  The second advertisement was unclear to many professionals.  Some felt that it could potentially be offensive to women because it quoted a song that involved partying with women and none of the professionals were aware that this was a quote from a song.  Clarity and professional language are therefore imperative when promoting something to a public audience. Since there are a variety of perspectives that read public statements, avoiding unnecessary comments that can be deemed as controversial is a lesson that people should take away from the professional subject’s reaction to these statuses.

The main factor that business professionals revealed was how there are a wide variety of perspectives that read these statements.  Business professionals take the fact that these statements are publicized into strong consideration.  They view them as documented statements that could potentially represent employees or the company that they work for.  When reading these statuses they tend to take a much more conservative approach than students and are more likely to consider something to be inappropriate than students would be.  Since these perspectives are representative of the opinions who can determine job employment status, students need to be aware of the reasons that they regard Facebook statements more inappropriately, and adjust to their conservative views.  To further understand how students should regulate their interactions on Facebook, I first gathered a better understanding of their perspective through interviews and analysis of their survey responses.

 

Student Perspective

When researching the students’ perspectives, it was important to initially understand how they view Facebook.  Some students consider Facebook to be a social website where they can interact with their friends.  The interesting finding that students presented me with was that most students are not ignorant to how public the information provided on Facebook is.  They are aware that the statements displayed on the website are public and open to interpretation by various perspectives.  It is clear to them that professionals who view this website are beginning to take Facebook into consideration and that they need to be careful about what they make public.  Rachel Hillburg, a senior at Brandeis University spoke about what the experience is like when applying to jobs and how statements on Facebook affect the way an applicant presents them.  “We’re so selective about what we put on a resume but if you have a Facebook page you might as well have put your life story on your resume because they [HR professionals] have access to it.”[16] This statement shows how students are aware of how the job application process is being affected by social networking websites.

The main issue that was presented to me when analyzing the research from my student subject’s perspectives was not whether or not they are ignorant about the way that the information they are providing on these websites can affect them, rather it was the way they view the Facebook.  The perspective of the setting of Facebook differentiated between students and professionals.  Students viewed it as a social site meant to be free for them to interact with their friends.  While business professionals are well aware that Facebook is used as a social setting, they also view it as a public platform where information is easily documented and can be used against the users.  Since students consider Facebook to be a social environment, they were less inclined to view the publicized statements as conservatively as the professional subjects did.  So, while students may claim that they are aware that professionals are beginning to view and use social networking sites such as Facebook, it is important that they start adjusting their perspectives of their statements to match the conservative views of the professionals.

Adjusting a perspective is a difficult thing to do, but after speaking with a few of the student subjects it is clear that there is a way to approach this issue.  The human resource consultant Jeffery Kirschner spoke about how you shouldn’t put anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t want your parents or employer to read.  While this is a start, students also need to consider that they should not say anything publicly that can easily be interpreted as something that they wouldn’t want a parent or employer to read; it does not have to be as direct as students think.

One particular example that reveals how students need to improve their awareness of the way a statement can be considered inappropriate because of something that could be inferred rather than directly said is the reactions to one of the statuses on the survey.  The status said, “Crazy night last night.  If you had an encounter with me, hopefully I provided some entertainment for you and your friends.”  This status evoked an interesting discrepancy between the ratings of the students and the professionals.  The professionals’ average rating for this status was 6.83, while the students’ average rating was 4.13.  Brandeis University senior, Lindsay Sher, explains why she gave this status a low rating of a one.  “I don’t see how that is offensive at all.  You can only infer from that statement.  If there were clear statements about drugs and alcohol then that could be inappropriate, but leaving it up for interpretation does not make it inappropriate.”[17] Sher went on to explain that it is clear to her that the person who posted this statement was highly intoxicated, but since it does not directly say anything about intoxications she does not think it is inappropriate.

Another senior at Brandeis University, Benjamin Gurvis, considers himself to be a relatively informed and conservative user of the publicized statements on Facebook.  He thinks that he would be more inclined to avoid inappropriate statements than most of his peers would.  He gave the status a low rating of a four.  He further explains why he does not think it is fair to consider something inappropriate because one can assume things from it.  “There’s no way to guarantee that what you say isn’t going to piss someone off.  There is a line that you should not cross and it’s not always easy to see that line.”  When I went on to explain how human resource managers are considering such statuses inappropriate because they can infer controversial behavior or generate negative interpretations from it he expressed his disapproval.  “That’s someone being unfairly judgmental against you.  That’s [publicized statements] who you are; you should be able to express that within limits.  I think it would be worse if you couldn’t express yourself.”[18] While he, like many other students, may disagree with this method of determining whether or not something is inappropriate, they need to be aware of what the reality is.

The main thing that students should learn from the ratings discrepancy that this status generated is that certain topics should simply be avoided entirely when speaking in a public forum. It would be difficult for students to worry if something negative can be inferred by the statements they make because there are so many perspectives on Facebook leaving an abundant amount of opportunities for people to misinterpret a statement.  This is why students are rebelling against this finding, because they do not want to be confined by other people’s opinions when speaking on Facebook, which they consider to be a social setting.  Students need to begin to adjust their view of what Facebook has become.  Gurvis said “you should be able to express yourself within limits”, these limits that he speaks of are different when the setting is changed.  While Facebook may be a social network where people are meant to interact and share fun things with friends, it has also become an extremely public forum.  The definition of what is considered inappropriate changes between these two settings.  Statements that allude to or have anything to do with sexual harassment, prejudice opinions, derogatory statements, or intoxicants are highly inappropriate in a public setting.  While many would agree that most of these statements are inappropriate in a social setting as well, certain topics still tend to come up on Facebook, especially regarding intoxicants.  This example reveals the reason that the way students can avoid getting into trouble with inappropriate statements is if they recognize the real setting that Facebook has evolved into.  Before creating a status, or posting a picture, students need to ask themselves if this would be considered inappropriate or controversial in a public setting.  If they determine that it is, or that it may not directly be something bad but that people can infer controversy from it, then they are better off avoiding it entirely.

While I assumed that all of the student’s reactions would be less conservative then the professional view, I was surprised to find that this was not entirely true.  The status which was considered controversial by professionals because it made light of what they considered to be sexual harassment actually averaged a higher rating from the students.  Students averaged 6.38 while professionals averaged 6.00 for the status that said “Just saw one of the cooks grabbing a female dining worker’s a**.  WELL WHO SAYS ROMANCE IS DEAD!? Happy Valentine’s Day kids.”  The reason that this is interesting is because it further reveals how people need to be careful about the amount of perspectives that are on Facebook.

The professionals regarded this as inappropriate because they viewed it from a business standpoint and inferred that if this were a statement by a coworker that they would make light of sexual harassment in the work place.  Students who found it controversial viewed it from a more personal standpoint.  Hillburg, who rated this an 8, explains why she gave the high rating. “I think its offensive to women.  Even though it was a joke and still makes light of sexual harassment, I think my gut reaction [for giving the rating] was that it was sexist.  The basis of it was sexual harassment but the reason was sexist.”[19] This not only further emphasizes the numerous points of view that participate in Facebook, but it also offers an insight into the difference between the way students and professionals think.  Professionals found this offensive because it had to do with behavior in the work place.  Students viewed it in a way that was more personal and rated it based on how it would offend them as individuals.  Hillburg went on to explain how she was offended primarily because it was sexist towards women, which is something she personally could be affected by as a young female.  “I think if it was some girl grabbing some guy’s a**, I think I would probably rate it less.  It would have had less of an impact than a guy grabbing a girl’s ass.”  The fact that she would not have been offended if the statement was a girl grabbing a guys body part shows how she viewed this statement with the perspective of wondering how she can personally relate to it.  While there is not a problem with students viewing things this way, it is important that they are aware of it because there can be situations where they may not personally be offended by the comment, but others can be.  In this case, Hillburg should be careful because while she found the status as controversial as most professionals, her viewpoint would have changed if the wording would have been slightly altered.  The difference is that the reasoning behind the professional’s perspective shows that regardless of what viewpoint people look at this, the statement is inappropriate because it deals with sexual harassment.  Students need to view such comments from the context as a whole, rather than limiting it to their own personal perspective.  If the topic that is being commented on is inappropriate then students should be less inclined to publicize it; regardless of whether or not they as individuals can relate to or be offended by it.

Overall, researching the students’ perspectives has revealed how the way they view Facebook affects their interpretation of the different forms of interaction on the site.  While they claim to be well aware that the information revealed on Facebook is public and can affect their image, students still judge a statement’s appropriateness under the condition that it is in a social setting, rather than a public one.  Given that their view is based on social context, students also consider how statements on Facebook will affect them on a more personal level then a professional level.  While it is still extremely unclear which perspective is more justifiable in this setting, it is important that students are made aware of the different points of views that are interacting with this website.  While students may argue that Facebook is made to be a social website and that it would be unfair for people to professionally judge their statements; the reality is that this is where the trend is heading.  People are beginning to use Facebook as a professional tool and as the young website continues to expand, this development will only continue to grow.  By being more knowledgeable and aware of the various perspectives, students can adjust to their social networking environment and have a safer experience on Facebook.

Facebook Privacy and Response to Usage

Facebook does a good job at making an effort to keep their users safe.  They work hard to give people opportunities to keep their information as private as possible and to give users the option of only allowing them to share information with the people they choose.  But the reality is, because of the way Facebook functions, many are aware that it is impossible to consider information on this website private.  If users use the privacy setting they may prevent strangers from viewing all of the content on their profiles; but the HR manager from the sports and entertainment industry is quick to point out that it is a “small world” and that people who users may be friends with can also be connected to business professionals which opens the opportunity for information to easily leak out.

At the same time, my personal research shows that some are still unaware of the privacy settings, and therefore are ignorant about how to use them.  The default setting is the “Everyone” setting.  Facebook’s Privacy Policy states, “Information set to ‘everyone’ is publicly available information, just like your name, profile picture, and connections.  Such information may, for example, be accessed by everyone on the Internet (including people not logged into Facebook), be indexed by third party search engines, and be imported, exported, distributed, and redistributed by us and others without privacy limitations.”[20] Students should be sure to familiarize themselves with the Privacy Policy otherwise their inappropriate statements can be open to even more users then the Facebook community.  They should also be aware that regardless of what privacy settings they set their profile to, their name and profile picture will not have privacy settings, and are open to the public.

Another issue regarding the privacy setting is that Facebook keeps track of users’ interactions on the website.  One of the bigger controversies on Facebook is in regards to the use of “metadata.”  “The upshot is this: Facebook has created a tool that provides social metadata for everything. Websites, photos, anything with a fan page – everything will have an array of likes, friends, and recommendations that are stored within what Facebook calls the social graph.”[21] This provides further evidence that illustrates how information on Facebook is being monitored and used in ways that students may not be entirely aware of.  Facebook privacy policy said, “One of the primary reasons people use Facebook is to share content with others. Examples include when you update your status, upload or take a photo, upload or record a video, share a link, create an event or a group, make a comment, write something on someone’s Wall, write a note, or send someone a message. If you do not want us to store metadata associated with content you share on Facebook (such as photos), please remove the metadata before uploading the content.”[22] Most students are unaware of the metadata and the fact that they would have to notify Facebook not to use it if they did not want to be tracked.

Ignorance plays a key role in users’ inability to protect them on Facebook.  An example of this came up when I notified one of my subjects that I would be using some of his statuses for research.  The subject’s name is Michael Zimmerman; he is a junior at the University of Central Florida.  After I showed him the ratings that his statuses received he became very angry.  “It’s pissing me off now that you’re making me aware of it.”[23] His reaction showed me that students can be affected by the fact that they cannot control their information that once it is published on Facebook.  Zimmerman was extremely angry when I described the difference in perspectives between students and professionals and was frustrated because he thought he was aware of how public Facebook is.  When I asked him if he would change the way he uses Facebook now that he is more aware of the reality he said, “I want to say yes but I doubt it.  Everyone has that mentality that it’s not going to happen to you.”[24] Hopefully students can begin to become more aware and change their mentality for the better, and adjust their perspectives of the website before they are the ones that feel the repercussions of this form of ignorance.

 

Notable Perspective Differences

After interviews and research, one thing is certain regarding Facebook, there are key differences between the way students and business professionals view the website.  Before going over the differences, it is important to recognize that both groups are aware of how public Facebook statements are and that they can affect the way people view the user.  At the same time, the discrepancy between the understandings of the definition of what the setting of Facebook is creates the major differences.  Students view Facebook as a social and personal website while professionals consider it to be a public forum.  This is where students can get into trouble.

The disparity was revealed through the responses to the statuses on the survey that the subjects filled out.  The averages for each group’s response are shown next to each status:

  1. “Shawty play your role, we slammin phantom doors.” Students: 3.38; Professionals: 4.83
  2. “Just saw one of the cooks grabbing a female dining hall worker’s a**.  WELL WHO SAYS ROMANCE IS DEAD!? Happy Valentine’s Day kids.”  Students: 6.38; Professionals 6.00
  3. “Is here to f*** sh** up” Students: 7.50; Professionals: 8.50
  4. “Addiction Party tonight @ Passions open bar 10:30-12 free entrance and live performance by Smokey ‘what them girls like’…..backdoor by the elevators!!!” Students: 3.75; Professionals: 6.83
  5. “Investment Talk/Wine and Cheese Social Today @ The Sports Bar of The 500 Brickell Building Complex. Starts at 7:00PM sharp.  You’re invited!” Students: 1.25; Professionals: 1.17
  6. “And For the, the Haters  … I Got a Finger in the Middle of My Hand That Explains How I Feel if You Don’t Understand.” Students: 5.00; Professionals: 7.00
  7. “Is willing to pay $10 for someone to reconstruct their face to look like me…study all my notes…and take my lab practical for anatomy and physiology by tomorrow…let me know wants to do it..I’m willing to go up to $11”Students: 2.25; Professionals: 4.17
  8. “Crazy night last night.  If you had an encounter with me, hopefully I provided some entertainment for you and your friends.” Students: 4.13; Professionals: 6.83
  9. “It’s Saturday so u know the drill……Slippin’ Saturdays Tep /101” Students: 3.25; Professionals: 3.50

10.  “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker…change of plans, going to sTD’s tonight.  See what I did there?  Bahahaha” Students: 6.38; Professionals: 7.33

This survey helps reveal key statistics about the different perspectives between the two groups.  Professionals rated six of the 10 statuses higher than a 5.00, indicating that they found reasoning to rate the status on the higher inappropriate side of the rating scale.  Students however only found three out of the 10 statuses to deserve a rating higher than a 5.00 indicating that their perspective led them to believe that most of these statements were not very inappropriate.  This helps prove that the differing perspectives regarding the setting of Facebook ultimately affect the way these two groups judge the publicized statements.  The problem with this is if students misjudge the appropriateness level of something they say on Facebook, they may not be aware of what is considered acceptable in the eyes of business professionals.

One example of the way the discrepancy between the definitions of the context of the website affects the way statements are judged is through the status that was spoken about earlier regarding intoxications.  The status said, “Crazy night last night.  If you had an encounter with me, hopefully I provided some entertainment for you and your friends.”  Students and professionals universally agree that topics involving drugs, alcohol, sexual harassment, and derogatory and prejudice statements are controversial and inappropriate.  The difference that the status reveals is that students do not believe this would be considered inappropriate because they disagree with the notion that inappropriateness can be inferred by a statement.  Since this status never directly said anything about drugs or alcohol, students gave it an average rating of 4.13.  Professionals believe that if a statement basically hints at an unacceptable topic, or can offend someone because it involves something that can be deemed controversial, than it is inappropriate.  Therefore, they gave this status an average rating of 6.83.  At the same time, another status that deals with intoxications clearly speaks about alcohol and in turn received a higher rating from the students.  The status was, “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker…change of plans, going to sTD’s tonight.  See what I did there?  Bahahaha.”  Professionals averaged a rating of 7.33 while students averaged 6.38.  The reason this was rated so much higher than the other status involving alcohol was because this status directly uses the word liquor, clarifying to the students the topic that it involves, and justifying an inappropriate rating.

The key difference that this finding reveals is the way students’ and professionals’ differing perspectives regarding Facebook affect the way they view statements.  One point that Richard Ridenour, the senior director of payroll, benefits, and risk management for Williamson Dickies, made earlier was that students should view the information they publicize the same way they would view the information they put on a resume.  The reason he says this is because both examples generate an opportunity for people to judge users based on the information they have provided.  Students do not entirely agree with Ridenour’s perspective because they believe that Facebook is simply meant to be a fun and social website where they should not have to worry as much about the professional setting.  Given that Facebook is continuously evolving, and the recent trend has revealed that business professionals are beginning to take publicized information more seriously, it is important that students look at the professional’s opinions with higher regard.

Recommendations on How to be Appropriate

 Changing social habits is an extremely difficult thing to do.  Making the necessary adjustment on Facebook may not be easy for most students to do.  Many students are used to viewing Facebook as a place where they can freely socialize and express themselves to their friends.  They need to begin to think of Facebook as a more public setting where they have to be more conscious of the topics that they discuss.  While making this adjustment may be difficult for many, it will prove to be advantageous in the long run given the new trend that business professionals are taking regarding their perspectives of social networking sites.

The first thing students need to do in order to make this change is educate themselves on the inner workings of Facebook.  They should know their rights and understand how and what the information they provide on this site is being used for.  Once they are aware of these factors it would be imperative that they familiarize themselves with what is considered inappropriate in the work place.  Business professionals consider this website to be a public forum, and some compare it to the way they would look at a resume.  This recent trend proves why students need to consider work place etiquette when socializing on Facebook.  While taking this perspective into consideration students should also take a step back from the personal reflection they are used to making their judgments with on Facebook and begin to think about the statements they publicize in a more general context.  Student should filter each of their Facebook statements into specific categories.  Before deciding whether or not one should say something on Facebook they should judge the category that their statement falls under, rather than judging the individual statement.  Since one of the main things that my research has proven is that there is a wide variety of perspectives on Facebook, people should be aware that if a statement falls under a controversial category, they should make an effort to either tone down the statement (by avoiding specific controversial worlds such as drugs, alcohol, sex, etc.) or avoid it entirely.  The reason filtering statements into categories would help students avoid controversy is because a lot of the time a specific statement may not personally offend the person who is making it.  While it may not offend the user, if it falls under a controversial topic, there is a good chance that it will offend someone else.  This will make it easier for students to clarify what should be considered inappropriate, and what topics they should avoid on social networking sites.  While some may be hesitant to make this adjustment, it is important that students begin to protect themselves on Facebook because it is continuously becoming more public and almost risky for ignorant users.

 

Conclusion

The ultimate finding that my research has proven is that perspective is a powerful thing.  As students continue to socialize on extremely public and open online forums, they must be aware of the amount of perspectives that they open themselves up to.  In regards to my original hypothesis, I do believe that students need to improve their view of Facebook and better educate themselves on the proper way to interact in such a public setting. At the same time, students deserve more credit than my hypothesis initially gave them.  They are aware that Facebook is an extremely public setting and that the things they say can be traced back to them and harm them if judged by certain people.  While they are aware of these issues, adjustments still need to be made.  Students and business professionals are not on the same page in regards to Facebook, and this discrepancy is a cause for concern.

The young website has yet to even scrape the tip of its potential.  The opportunity for expansion in size and power are monumental.  While this may be exciting for many, it is still further proof of why it is imperative that students begin to educate and fine-tune what they consider to be proper public etiquette on social networking sites.  At the same time, it is important that those who judge and develop impressions based on the statements made on these social networking sites, consider that this website was built to be a social forum.  Students are used to having this site for their social convenience and it would be unfair to make drastic judgments based on the findings that Facebook provides.  The best solution would be for students and business professionals to find a middle ground.  Students need to become more conservative, educated, and proper in the way they conduct themselves on public sites such as Facebook.  On the other hand, if business professionals continue to follow the recent trend, and look at social networking sites for information on potential employees, they should consider that while they may be researching interactions in a public setting, they are not viewing a business environment.  It is therefore important for business professionals to also carefully adjust their perspective and use this up and coming source of information with great responsibility.

Everyday the internet is changing the way the world functions.  Many of these enhancements are improving citizens’ ability to communicate and giving people the opportunity to publicize themselves in ways that they never were able to in the past.  The internet has proven to be a wonderful and extremely useful tool for billions of people around the world, and these developments are only expanding human’s potential to enjoy exhilarating experiences in the world.  At the same time, it is imperative that people proceed with caution and are well educated as they continue to explore the young and exciting opportunities that the internet has to offer.


[1] Facebook. “Facebook: Statistics.” Facebook. Facebook, 2010. Web. 28 Mar. 2010.
<http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics&gt;.

[2] Hampton, Adriel. “Recruiting and Vetting Job Applicants Using Social Tools.”
Wired to Share (May 2009): n. pag. Wired to Share. Web. 28 Mar. 2010.
<http://adrielhampton.wordpress.com/2009/05/17/
recruiting-and-vetting-job-candidates-using-social-tools/>.

[3] Young, Alyson. “Information Revelation and Internet Privacy Concerns on Social
Network Sites: A Case Study of Facebook.” The University of Western
Ontario. The University of Western Ontario, 2009. Web. 3 May 2010.
<http://www.iisi.de/fileadmin/IISI/upload/2009/p265.pdf&gt;.

[4] Cerasaro, Ashley. “Employers defy privacy by using Facebook.” Tennessee
Journalist 8 Apr. 2008: n. pag. Web. 29 Mar. 2010. <http://tnjn.com/
2008/apr/08/employers-defy-privacy-by-usin/>.

[5] Cerasaro

[6] Kirschner, Jeffrey. Telephone interview. 11 Mar. 2010.

[7] Kirschner

[8] It is important to note that Facebook’s recent privacy statement clearly states that unless users have their privacy setting set to “Everyone” Facebook is not allowed to use any of the information without permission from the user.  Also, research shows that in general students are more aware of the privacy settings than the credit that they receive.

[9] Cerasaro

[10] Ridenour, Richard. Telephone interview. 5 Feb. 2010.

[11] Ridenour

[12] HR Manager, Sports Entertainment. Telephone interview. 28 Mar. 2010

[13] Ridenour

[14] Ridenour

[15] Sports and Entertainment Human Resource Manager

[16] Hillburg, Rachel. Personal interview. 7 Apr. 2010.

[17] Sher, Lindsay. Telephone interview. 10 Apr. 2010.

[18] Gurvis, Benjamin. Personal interview. 6 Apr. 2010.

[19] Hillburg

[20] “Facebook’s Privacy Policy.” Facebook. Facebook, 22 Apr. 2010. Web. 23 Apr.
2010. <http://www.facebook.com/terms.php#!/policy.php&gt;.

[21] Bump, Philip. “Facebook Open Graph: Social Metadata For Everything.”
MediaIte. N.p., 22 Apr. 2010. Web. 23 Apr. 2010.
<http://www.mediaite.com/online/
facebook-open-graph-social-metadata-for-everything/>

[22] Facebook’s Privacy Policy

[23] Zimmerman, Michael. Telephone interview. 23 Apr. 2010.

[24] Zimmerman

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