Late last week, Facebook celebrated a milestone: one billion users. That’s two-fifths of the world’s 2.5 billion Internet users, just in case you were wondering. Whoop-di-doo! But hey, kids, while you’re raising your red Solo cups in a toast, keep your cell phones in your pocket where they belong. Last week also brought news that a quarter of the admissions officers at America’s top colleges have checked applicants’ Facebook pages during the admissions process—and more than a third of them found stuff on there that hurt applicants’ chances of getting in.
Young people today have a strange sense of privacy. In a Wall Street Journal report on the survey of admissions reps that revealed the Big Brothering, Naomi Wiener, a freshman at Cornell, cried foul. “Everything you present to a college you prepare for,” she moaned. “To blindside someone by looking at some side of them without them knowing is different from every other part of the college process.” Um, Naomi? I’m not even on Facebook, but I just pulled up your page and saw pictures of you and your friends and your family, and saw you eating that yummy-looking sundae and playing with light sticks. I know you like Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Target and Bevello clothes, and that you friended Bryan Hancock on September 23rd, 2009. (Cute photo of you and your sister!) I know that in middle school, you were one of the winners of the UVA Art Museum’s Writer’s Eye competition, and that your bat mitzvah kicked in to contribute to the new playground at Chancellor Street Preschool Co-operative. And if you think it’s creepy that I, a 55-year-old woman you’ve never met, could get so familiar with your life in two minutes or so, honey, you have no idea what my colleague Victor Fiorillo can do.
I don’t mean to pick on you, Naomi, but this is the world we’ve got: Kate Middleton topless. Kate Middleton bottomless. I don’t have to bother to link; you’ve already looked. It’s human nature to be curious. Once upon a time, we peeked over hedgerows at our neighbors. Now we can stare into each other’s hearts from anywhere on the planet. And I bet you think that’s pretty cool.
I do, too. It makes my job as a journalist easier. But it also makes life easier for pedophiles and bullies and stalkers and Ponzi schemers and crazy ex-boyfriends and, yep, college admissions officers. It seems to be too much to ask young people to use good sense about what they put online. But the Wall Street Journal article is just another reminder: We’re looking at you.