Facebook now boasts more than 1 billion active users worldwide, about three times the population of the United States.
So it comes as no surprise that such social media sites have become an effective means of communication in worlds where they once were taboo.
Businesses, clubs, families and even schools have taken to the social media universe to reach people where they already are: on the Internet.
But that shifting landscape doesn’t come without its consequences.
As social media becomes the norm across all generations, more employers have started looking at social media as a part of the application process for candidates, some even going as far as to require applicants turn over their Facebook username.
An inappropriate photo or a status posted for the world to see could end up costing job seekers an opportunity.
That practice has now been picked up by some college admission offices.
According to a Kaplan Test Prep 2012 survey of college admission officers, more than a quarter of college recruiters did Web searches of applicants.
Kaplan started tracking the number in 2008 when 1 in 10 admission officers admitted to the Internet search.
“I’ll be honest with you, it’s probably one of those things that’s been unofficial,” said Nathan Goss, executive director of recruitment at Brenau University. “But I’ve noticed there’s been an increase in the verbiage coming from institutions stating that they reserve the right to review profiles. I have seen that.”
Goss said Brenau does not use social media searches as a part of its application process, but online sharing in the past has cost students enrollment at the school.
Brenau, a private school in Gainesville, requires students to sign a pledge upon admission.
“That pledge basically states they maintain a sensible lifestyle; they represent Brenau where ever they go and behavior apart from that could possibly jeopardize their standing at Brenau,” Goss said. “Things like that have occurred and happened before.”
But, he said, searching for potential infractions is not done through the admission office; the school has an “honor court” that handles those cases.
Like Brenau, North Georgia College & State University — soon to be University of North Georgia after its consolidation with Gainesville State College — has no policy on checking social media sites as a part of the admission process.
“We’re using official documentation for admissions, so we’re looking at official transcripts, official test scores,” said Jennifer Chadwick, admissions director at North Georgia. “That’s all factual information that’s being provided versus your own study in determining what’s going on with this student’s Facebook page.
“We’re communicating with them (via social media), but we’re not checking their Facebook to see what they’re doing or who they’re hanging out with.”
But some local high schools don’t like to let their students go into the situation blindly, regardless of whether colleges are looking.
Kay Holleman, a college counselor at Lakeview Academy, said at almost every counselor workshop she goes to, social media is a topic of conversation.
Colleges, she said, could, and have, looked at that as a part of the application process, although she has not seen it personally.
“Anything that you put on Facebook and Twitter you can’t get it off, so (students) need to be very careful,” she said. “There are certain colleges that are looking at that, so they need to be very careful about what they put online because they don’t know if that college (they’re applying to) is one of the ones that look at it.”
Holleman said at the beginning of each year, Lakeview, along with most schools, broaches the subject with students, especially seniors. The dangers of posting illegal activities or inappropriate subject matter online is made clear.
“We talk to our seniors reminding them (about the dangers), and other kids, too,” she said. “You will find that most schools will talk about that now. ... You don’t want to do anything that may hurt your image.”
But some colleges may shy away from checking social media pages before admitting students because of potential legal issues.
In fact, Chadwick said, schools that opt into checking Facebook before admitting students could find themselves at risk because “you can very easily find the wrong person.”
And private schools, she said, are more likely to take that risk because of the freedom that is associated with not being publicly funded.
Goss agreed, but said it’s likely to even out as time progresses.
“I would say it would probably be more prevalent in the private sector than the public just because private institutions are able to gauge and facilitate their standards more freely than the public sector,” he said. “(But) I foresee it as a growing trend on both ends.”