NSIT: Keep those pictures off the Web

By Sara Jerome

As networking web sites like MySpace.com and Facebook.com continue to infiltrate the college social scene, the University’s Networking Services and Information Technologies (NSIT) office has launched the Too Much Information (TMI) campaign to educate students about appropriate self-disclosure in cyberspace.

NSIT officials hope the campaign, which includes flyers, posters in the dorms, meetings, and web site announcements, will discourage students from sabotaging future job prospects by posting information that could characterize them as anything from irresponsible to criminal, as posting photos of drug use and underage drinking has become a quotidian online practice.

“Content that you post that does not reflect you in the best light can come back to haunt you later on, since there have been reports that employers look through such sites for clues about future employees,” said Therese Allen-Vassar, the senior director of NSIT client relations. “Pretty much anyone can get on these sites if they want to.”

The TMI campaign takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the consequences of irresponsible use of Facebook and MySpace. One poster is written in the tone of a young woman who posted information about baking marijuana brownies. Greg Jackson, vice president and chief information officer of the University, said the poster was based on a similar campaign launched at the University of Wisconsin.

Despite the light tone of the TMI campaign, Allen-Vassar acknowledged the potentially dangerous consequences of networking online.

“Posting one’s personal details can lead to unwanted attention from predators, leading even to shocking crimes like rape and murder,” she said.

Jackson said that students seem to be growing increasingly bold with their Internet profiles, especially by posting photos of parties. He mentioned that when controversial pictures from last year’s “Straight Thuggin’” party were posted online, it was a catalyst for the eventual uproar over the event.

NSIT also warns that it is sometimes difficult to remove photos from the Internet once they’ve been posted.

“Posting too much information on web sites can be a problem, because the material that one posts potentially stays available forever,” said Allen-Vassar. “Even if you take it down, archiving sites may retain the content.”

Jackson said that a “cached copy” of a photo sometimes remains on Google, even if the pictures are removed. He said that if “you post a picture of yourself naked,” for example, you might have difficulty retrieving it from the depths of cyberspace.

Jackson said that there have already been three cases this year of students who contacted NSIT after unsuccessfully attempting to delete personal photos. He said that Google will usually remove the photos if they are alerted, but the process is slow.

Another realm in which students might want to practice more caution, Jackson said, is with their CNetIDs. He said that students may choose a nickname they think is amusing when they are first-years, but four years down the road they regret their lack of foresight when they are using e-mail to apply for internships and jobs.

Despite the abandon with which some students confront their Internet profiles, others have wised up on their own and decided to take advantage of Facebook’s various privacy features, which can block a user’s profile from people he is not friends with.

Catherine Smith, a fourth-year in the College, chose to set her Facebook profile to private.

“It’s more of an inherent personal preference and modesty thing for me,” she said. “If someone really wants to see my profile, they could ask me.”

Samantha Schoeneman, a third-year in the College, has also taken advantage of this privacy feature.

“More than once have I had creepy Facebook stalkers sending me inappropriate messages,” she said. “Facebook should be something that is for fun…there is no reason that people other than my friends should be seeing my profile and deciding who I am without knowing me.”

Allen-Vassar added that NSIT is not pressuring students to get rid of their profiles altogether.

“Posting online is a fun way to keep in touch and make friends with a wide circle of people,” she said. “Instead, we want students to have good experiences and learn what content is and isn’t a good idea to post.”

Allen-Vassar said that NSIT has launched campaigns to teach students about online scams called “phishing scams,” which target credit card and Social Security information.

NSIT is also encouraging students to “patch” their computers with updates to Internet security and virus software.

“Leaving your computer unpatched means that people can break in and compromise your machine, using it for nefarious purposes if they wish,” she said.