It is no secret that teenagers have come to rely on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to document every aspect of their lives. It is easy to get lost in the online world of social media and think that because you’ve set your profile to “private”, what you post online will have no repercussions. This blog post will outline some of the possible consequences of documenting too much of your information through social media.

It has become increasingly known that many employers do a Facebook search of their potential employees before they even have a chance to introduce themselves. In most cases, these searches will turn employers away from the candidate before even interviewing them. However, what is not as well known is the fact that universities do the same. According to a Kaplan Test Prep survey from 2011, 24% of college admission officers in the United States admitted to using social networks such as Facebook to learn more about their candidates (Schaffer and Wong).

What is perhaps more important to know is that even if you’ve set your profile to “private”, Facebook reserves the right to “access, preserve and share information when [they] have a good faith belief it is necessary to: detect, prevent and address fraud and other illegal activity” (Facebook), as outlined in their privacy policy. This means that what you post online can and will be used against you if you are suspected of committing a crime. We need only look at the recent arrest of 18-year-old Jacob Cox-Brown to realize the repercussions of some status updates: Jacob, who hit two cars while driving under the influence and fled the scene, proceeded to post about it on Facebook: “Drivin drunk… classic 😉 but to whoever’s vehicle i hit i am sorry. :P” (qtd. in Gorrow). A few of his “friends” contacted the local police, who until then had no leads on the perpetrator of the hit-and-run. While the Facebook evidence was not enough to convict Jacob of drunk driving, they were able to match the car registered to Jacob’s name to the damage done at the hit-and-run scene. Consequently, Jacob was charged with “failure to perform the duties of a driver” (Gorrow).

Another, more surprising example of Facebook information use by the government is the story of Paula Asher. Paula is an 18-year-old girl who landed in jail for refusing to take down her Facebook page after she posted prior to her court date: “My dumbass got a DUI and hit a car LOL” (qtd. in Ashe), which the judge was not very pleased with.

Facebook information is also often used local high schools when problems in a school arise. Students in Ontario who use Facebook as a means to bully students in their schools can be suspended or in some cases expelled. The Education Act states in s. 306 (1)(6) that a principal must consider suspending you if you bully someone. S. 310(1)(6) of the Education Act goes on to state that a principal must consider expelling you:
a)  if your bullying is motivated by bias (i.e. race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, disability or more) OR
b) previously have been suspended for bullying and create an unsafe risk to the safety of another student.

Posting hurtful comments on Facebook about other students at your school qualifies as an act that will impact the school climate regardless of whether you posted these comments off school property or out of school hours. It is easy for this information to come to the attention of the school administration; your posts can be printed by any of your friends or by the person who your comments may be directed too.  Any posts on Facebook that are threatening or point to a pattern of harassment or other criminal activity can be used as evidence in court for criminal charges or civil law suits.

As these and many other stories show, it is important to know where your information is stored, for how long, and most importantly, who can access it. As a press release from Astoria police read, “When you post […] on Facebook, you have to figure that it is not going to stay private long” (qtd. in Gorrow).

Ashe, Dru. “Teenage Girl Sent to Jail After Posting About Her DUI Charge on Facebook.” Complex Tech. 20 September 2012. Web. Accessed 17 January 2013
Facebook. “Data Use Policy: Some other things you need to know.” Facebook. 11 December 2012. Web. Accessed 17 January 2013
Gorrow, Chelsea. “Facebook post lands Astoria man in jail.” The Daily Astorian. 4 January 2013. Web. Accessed 17 January 2013

This scenario was written by Naiara Toker, a volunteer on JFCY’s PLE team. All legal content was reviewed by a JFCY lawyer.