Going Outside: Facebook & Other Sites

Your Online Identity: Making It, Breaking It, Protecting It

By now, you are likely part of several networks of friends, from intimate groups of people you know personally on IM to large, Internet-wide networks like MySpace, LiveJournal, Xanga, or Bebo. You may have set up a profile on Facebook where you present yourself to other students throughout the world; when you arrive at Wellesley, you'll set up a Wellesley account where you present yourself to people within the Wellesley College community. Many people will come to know you through your online accounts; some of those people will also know you in person and will connect your real identity with your virtual identity....for better and for worse. The questions below are designed to help you keep your identity in the "for better" column.

Have you thought about all the possible readers of your Facebook, LiveJournal or Wellesley accounts?
The number of people who can access your page is always more than you think! What opinion would a future employer, for example, form about you if s/he were to browse your Facebook or LiveJournal pages? Some do, and some have been known to make hiring decisions based on what they see there. Of course, sites like Facebook allow you to restrict your profile to just friends, or to undergraduates at your school, but you may not want to restrict your profile in that way. In any case, you may well want to follow the old adage: "Don't include anything you wouldn't want your grandmother to read."

Do you know that things you post don't disappear just because you have deleted them? What you post at one site may be archived at a site somewhere else on the Internet, and will remain accessible to casual browsers long after you think you have deleted material from your web page. Similarly, messages are frequently forwarded from one site to another: a private e-mail that you send a friend may, embarrassingly and much to your surprise, end up being passed on far and wide.

Have you asked your friends' permission before posting pictures of them to your account? Have you posted pictures that show you or your friends doing something embarrassing or illegal? It's important to keep in mind the privacy of others when you post material to your own pages. Similarly, saying false or defamatory things about others in a public place constitutes a legal violation of their privacy.

Have you posted details about your personal life and activities that would allow anyone to locate you any time of the day? To find you after class, or follow you to parties, or contact you by cell phone? The Internet is not a good place to advertise your personal contact information and your movements. You don't want just anyone to be able to locate you; your personal safety matters to you, and to us. And be careful about publishing a link to your Facebook profile on your instant messaging account or elsewhere; once you've made that link public, it's searchable by Google. We've found that we can connect to restricted Facebook photo pages from Google searches. We encourage you to report any concerns to the Wellesley College Police Department, Student Life and/or to the online social networks themselves.

Have you informed yourself as fully as possible about the privacy policies of the site you are using? It's important to know in advance how a site will handle the material that you post there. Will a site give or sell your personal information to other groups? Will the site responsibly delete material by or about you if you ask it to do so? Google, for example, has a procedure to request removal of information, but getting information removed usually involves a lot of red tape and is not always granted. Other groups may not honor such requests. Who owns material you post to your site? For example, Facebook.com retains all rights to any material you post to your Facebook account. You should also know that you don't need to provide material to for every field in Facebook.

We, like you, think that the Internet presents all kinds of possibilities for communication, interaction, and a vibrant public life. But everyone needs to understand what comes with a public life.

For further information and guidance, please see:

WCPSC Faculty Director: Wini Wood
Maintained by: Anne Manning
Date Created: 25 August 2008
Last Modified: 25 August 2008
Expires: 31 December 2009