Point: Is Social Media Surveillance Necessary or Invasive?

Katelyn Timple, News Editor

    We are constantly being watched. Our actions and words are open to scrutiny from anyone that sees ot hears them. Are you aware, however, that what you put online can have the same consequences? Even one picture taken out of context could have a ruinous effect on your social life and future opportunities. When admissions personnel or employers are actively looking into a person on social media, something meant for making connections and personal expression, is it an invasion of privacy? Most teens aren’t aware of their online reputation and the possibility of consequences in the future. Anything can be shared quickly and misconstrued in the blink of an eye. An institution looking into behavior on social media because it came to their attention may be justified, but looking into social media accounts, private or public, without cause, is excessive and an invasion of privacy. 

   Online reputation is something that few teenagers are well-versed in. But almost everyone knows that everything put online stays there. According to Common Sense Education, “The ease of online disclosure poses risks for young people. A decision made in the spur of a moment — a funny picture, a certain post — can resurface years later. Something originally sent to a friend can be sent to a friend’s friend, and so on. That’s how secrets become headlines and how false information spreads fast and furiously -– to classmates, teachers, college admissions officers, future employers, or the public at large” (commonsense.org). A single decision made in a comedic context can have a lasting impact on your future. 

   It is excessive when people who could determine your future make an investigation without cause. Multimedia Teacher Brad Liber said, “What if you decided to put every decision you ever made online, the good and the bad? That’s what’s going on now. Kids have smartphones at younger ages, they have social media accounts, they put things online. But they’re at the maturity level of a young kid, which isn’t bad, but you’re not supposed to just put everything you ever do out there online. It’s gonna haunt you. It’s frightening. You share a lot and you’re encouraged to share a lot, but you don’t really understand what you’re putting out there and how it can be used against you. Everything you put online is there forever; that’s what they say. It’s there on a server somewhere. They don’t really expunge those, they keep that data.” 

   People don’t truly have control of how others are going to view their online presence. With society as it is now, anything could be misconstrued out of context. Liber said, “A lot of things can be pulled out of context, so even something you said or did online doesn’t look bad when you watch the whole video, but if you watch these five seconds of it, it looks really bad and that’s all someone is going to use or all they’re going to look at. I think it’s extremely difficult and rare for a person to have the kind of self awareness that makes what they put online something that wouldn’t be misconstrued in a way that could harm them.” Considering this, what employers or colleges might see could be misinterpreted. An opportunity might be affected just because something taken out of context was part of an application process. 

   Some may argue that it is important to disqualify candidates that would reflect poorly on the institution. While it may be necessary to consider character in admissions or hire, that does not permit an invasion of privacy. Liber said, “Companies can hire people to crack into the private accounts of everyone they hire. Even if you have a private account, they can actually see everything you do. And they can search for certain kinds of language, certain conversations you have. Essentially, they are able to do what I think is a serious invasion of privacy and basically look into your interactions within your personal life.” 

   According to a 2020 Kaplan Test Prep survey, “Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of the 300-plus college admissions officers surveyed see no issue with social media being part of the admissions equation. On the flip side, 35 percent of admissions officers consider viewing applicants’ social media ‘an invasion of privacy and shouldn’t be done’” (kaptest.com). Liber said, “Should a company or establishment that hasn’t accepted you or paid you yet have access to your life? Some people may say we should prevent any bad person from getting a job despite their privacy. And some may say that’s a problem because if there’s no privacy, that’s an infringement of your rights.” There may be benefits to investigating potential misconduct when it is brought to their attention. But how far does it have to go? The question is: is finding fault in a potential candidate worth the breach of their right to privacy? Their separation of personal and professional lives? The obvious answer should be “no.”

   Employers and admissions officers actively looking into a potential candidate’s social media completely unwarranted is an excessive invasion of privacy. Mistakes can be made, anything can be misinterpreted and shared as truth, and probing their personal life is unnecessary and an infringement of their rights. Are you aware of your online reputation? Is it just to lose an opportunity because of something you might not have had control over? Do you, as an individual, truly have a right to privacy?