Over the last two decades, social media have been occupying a more and more important place in our lives, permeating every aspect, from marketing to personal relationships. From a harmless distraction, a way to keep in touch with friends and maintain an online journal, they turned into an integral part of our routines and our society, to the point of becoming a sort of addiction for many people. And with them being so important and ubiquitous, it is natural to ask some questions. How do they influence one’s prospects in education and professional development? What do they do to the psychology of students? What are their quantitative and qualitative effects on one’s college life? In this article, we will answer these questions, as well as give some tips on how you can control and limit this influence to your advantage.
First of all: yes, social media have a number of obvious effects on one’s prospects both in college and beyond. There are multiple examples of both educational institutions and employers doing some research on applicants’ social media profiles before making a final decision as to whether accept them or not. A survey made back in 2018 suggests that about 25 percent of colleges check their applicants’ social media profiles looking for signs of troubling behavior. The same goes for employers: a recent study shows that more than 80 percent of them recruit via social media and more than 40 percent screen their candidates using the same method. Different employers may have different ideas of troubling behavior, but most commonly, they look for three specific things: provocative content, alcohol, and drug use reference, and discriminatory comments.
So, what can you do to protect yourself from the negative effects of this situation?
1. Have Some Social Media Presence
In certain ways, it is a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. According to some sociological research on the engagement of colleges and employers with applicants shows that sometimes being completely absent from social media is also treated as a red flag. In an age when almost everybody uses Facebook and Instagram, not having at least some token presence on them may be seen as weird and suspicious. So, it may be a good idea to start a project of creating a few accounts that would show that you have nothing to hide.
2. Think before You Post
It is the main rule you should follow in all your interactions with social media. Be extremely careful about what you post using the Internet. It goes for posts, comments, photos, videos, angry rants, and private messages. Let us say it again: and private messages. Nothing is truly private once it leaves your device. There is more than one example of a message somebody sent privately getting leaked or intentionally divulged, ruining the reputation of people related to it. Think of it as being prosecuted: anything you say can be used against you. If you don’t want your college or your future employer finding out about something you say, do not say it at all, period.
3. Monitor Your Profiles
And keep them natural. Keep an eye on all the profiles you use at least occasionally, maintain them, but avoid any activities that may look artificial, like buying followers or using bots to boost your ratings. Such activities are usually pretty obvious for an outside observer and may put off your future college or employer.
4. Search Your Name
These are usually called “vanity searches”, but there is nothing vain about it. It is just sensible caution. You want to keep an eye on where your name appears and in relation to what it is mentioned. If you do not like the title of the page you find your name on, you may want to do something about it.
5. Clean Up
If you know that you’ve posted something compromising in the past, remove it right now, do not wait for somebody to find it. If you’ve been active on social media for a long time, you may have to spend a lot of time doing it, but it is better done now when it is (yet) is of little concern. Once your potential employer finds it, it will be too late.
Just remember one thing: it is virtually impossible to remove something from the Internet once it is out there. If you study some social media research topics, you will see that it is a common concern: once something appears on the Internet, you can never completely scrub it away. If somebody is truly determined to make you look bad, he/she will find a way.
6. Discuss It with Your Friends
So, you’ve done everything to make your online presence all nice and respectable. You can virtually write a dissertation or thesis paper on this topic. You make sure you check and double-check everything you post on social media. Are you safe? Not exactly. There is always that one friend who likes to post photos from parties, paying special attention to how hilariously drunk his pals are, or something else of the same kind. And he/she keeps tagging you in them. It may feel uncomfortable, but have a talk with all such friends and tell them that you are trying to get hired or admitted to a university, and want your online presence to be pristine. Also, dive into your social media profile settings and look for privacy options. Most social media give you an opportunity to turn off auto-tag (i.e., people will have to ask for your direct approval to tag you in their photos).
As you can see, social media can have some seriously detrimental effects on your education and career prospects. You probably heard hundreds of times of their other negative effects – well, here is yet another reason not to dive too deep into them. Follow these suggestions, and you will be able to maintain a healthy balance between too little and too much of your social media presence.