Zoe Alford has seen the “Confessions” page. She knows about “Spotted”. But she doesn’t know whether the panic over “liking” these pages is completely necessary. Read on and find out why.

During the Christmas holidays I came across an interesting blog by our very own Education Officer Zahid Raja, entitled “Why Social Media Can Ruin Your Life” (which you can read here)

The warning against posting any incriminating or insensitive material online is nothing new. As social media sites have an ever-increasing affect on our everyday lives, messages of caution are often handed out to students – perhaps most relevant to Swansea students in particular after the conviction of former student Liam Stacey for his abusive tweets towards footballer Fabrice Muamba last year. Therefore, in light of the growing number of people who are ‘liking’ or contributing material to controversial confession groups (such as Spotted: Swansea Library and Swansea Student Confessions), the Students’ Union understandably wanted to reaffirm this friendly warning to students who risk damaging their reputations online.

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However, I couldn’t help feeling a little deflated after reading the blog, despite its good intentions, and despite the idea of filtering what you post online being repeated time and time again, I have never before seen such an explicit reduction of individual student potential into a sellable “product” the way I did in this article;

“When you apply for a graduate job, you don’t just sell your ability – but also yourself. You are a brand.”

It didn’t help to come across this warning during that stressful pre-exam period. Don’t get me wrong, I love my degree, but I know I’m not alone in wanting to re-evaluate my goals when times get tough. As the mountains of work and deadlines loom, often the only way to get through is to focus on what you hope to achieve with your degree afterwards. With this struggle in mind then, to read that students such as myself will someday be evaluated as “products” for employers to buy into, especially in such deceptively simplistic and patronising terms… it didn’t exactly fill me with confidence towards my future as a postgraduate.

That said, the issue of how social media use can affect a student’s future opportunities is an important one.  In an increasingly digitalised world; it does appear that more employers are using social media sites to effectively ‘vet’ future employees. According to a recent report conducted by BBC News, the percentage of companies currently using this method to assess information on its employees stands at around 30%, although this figure is just for employers in Human Resources; implying that the percentages for different employment sectors may actually be much lower than this. So although this figure is almost certain to increase, it could still be argued that the large majority of graduate employers don’t check social media outlets as much as we’re led to believe.

As a self-confessed social media addict I’d like to think that employing a little common-sense when online – along with frequent profile maintenance – should be enough to ensure that potentially damaging information doesn’t jeopardise any future opportunities. Steps like untagging or removing drunken snaps, reviewing your newsfeed, or even going as far as to create separate accounts for professional and private use are just some the quick and easy ways that students can sensibly control how they present themselves online, without sacrificing the use of these sites all together.

I would disagree with the article’s advice to ‘unlike’ certain pages. It’s an unfair judgement to assume that ‘liking’ a page or group on Facebook means that the user automatically agrees with it. For instance, I’ve ‘liked’ both the Spotted: Swansea Library and Swansea Student Confessions on Facebook in order to see what they’re about, but by no means does this mean that I agree with the nature of some of the content posted  on there. What we feel we should, or shouldn’t do online, however, may also be dictated by the kind of degree we’re taking, or the kind of job we hope to secure afterwards. Although a English undergraduate himself, 3rd year student Michael Kavanagh pointed out that he “knew a lot of PGCE students that have been explicitly told by their course tutors that Facebook is either a no-go area or that they have to create online aliases to use it”, while he “hadn’t really thought about” the negative impact his social networking might have on his job prospects. So there isn’t actually one universal rule that dictates our online behaviour.

Swansea Uni Confessions Logo

In fact, the case against social media may not be nearly as strong as it first appears. When I asked Catherine Rowland, a 2nd year English Literature student, about how social media had affected her experiences at various work internships, her response was overwhelmingly positive:

“I wouldn’t say that my activity on social media websites like Facebook have affected my employability – rather the opposite in fact. I found that by connecting with the other employees on Facebook I was able to further integrate myself into the life of the Matrix [the company she worked for], which then helped me to sustain a healthy working relationship between myself and everyone in the office.”

She added: “It is important to consider how using social media encourages networking, and networking encourages employability”.

This insight led me to think that the problem may not just lie in the way that the average student conducts themselves online. Rather, the problem may also somewhat lie with the bias of assuming that certain people; in this case students, are fixed entities that can’t learn, change, or improve the versions of themselves that they may present online.  The problem with treating like students like products is that when it comes down to it, we’re all disappointingly human. Not only are we all disappointingly human, but as young adults we’re of an age when we’re very likely to make mistakes online as we navigate the difficult path towards independence and adulthood. We also have to manage the extra responsibility of monitoring our social media use in such way that we can expand our contacts and maximise our professional opportunities, whilst somehow making sure that past indiscretions don’t come back to haunt us . Which isn’t easy.

While I may not have any experience as a graduate employee, I’d like to think that many employers are more than aware of the daunting challenge that social media presents. I’d like to think that if any future employers would be naive and superficial enough to dismiss students purely on their social media output – without listening to the reasons behind such actions, or the qualities that students have to offer in person – then perhaps they may not be the sort of progressive employers that’d you’d want to end up working for in the long run.

By Zoe Alford

What do you think about students using social media? Drop us an email at thesirenswansea@hotmail.co.uk or leave a comment below.

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