Students, avoid an 'lol...OMG' moment with these privacy and online reputation management tips

Jan 18, 2012 12:19pm


By Emily Eckland, NCSA Managing Editor of Digital Media

If anyone knows about the effect the Internet can have on a person’s reputation, it’s Matt Ivester.

Ivester is the founder of JuicyCampus.com, a website that was intended to serve as a message board across college campuses, but morphed into a controversial, anonymous gossip site.

Before JuicyCampus shut down in 2009, the website came under fire from student government associations and colleges across the country -- and was even the subject of investigations by two attorneys general.

Now, Ivester is taking lessons he learned from JuicyCampus and is educating students about becoming good cyber citizens.

Ivester hopes his newly-released book, “lol...OMG! What every student needs to know about online reputation management, digital citizenship and cyberbullying” will become a resource for students as they navigate new digital situations in college and beyond.

The “lol” refers to students doing things they think are funny and posting them online and the “OMG” refers to the moment when teens realize those actions are having unanticipated negative reactions in life, Ivester says.

A “lol” moment may be posting an inappropriate photo on Facebook and the “OMG” moment may come years later, when you miss out on job opportunities because potential employers see it online.

This Data Privacy Day, Ivester is encouraging teens and college students to manage their online reputation and protect their privacy.

In a teenager’s world, privacy means getting your parents to stay out of your bedroom. 

But online, privacy can have a broader definition.

“Social networking has expanded the definition of ‘privacy.’” Ivester says.

“Teens are much more comfortable with information shared online, but that still means they need to figure out what types of information they’re sharing.”

Posting photos to Facebook during a drunken night out or having a fight with your friend on Twitter may not seem harmful – until a would-be employer or landlord sees them.

“There are a lot of potential consequences I don’t think students are thinking about,” Ivester says.

Here are some ways Ivester suggests students manage their privacy online:

  • Take an online inventory of yourself – Type your name into a search engine and see what comes up. Look at all of your social networking profiles and see what kind of content you’re putting online. “Figure out what’s out there about yourself and the current status of your online reputation,” Ivester says.
  • Realize that your online audience is more than just your friends – Think about what you put online and how it can affect you and others. “The content you’re creating can have negative consequences if you’re not careful,” says Ivester.
  • Take advantage of privacy settings on social networks – Many sites allow you to create customize how certain people see your content.

Ivester recommends taking certain actions on Facebook: turning on the profile review, which allows you to approve certain pieces of content - like tagged photos – before they’re associated with your profile and limiting your old posts, which takes content that may have been public in the past and automatically makes them visible to only your friends.

“There’s probably no reason for anything to be public from five years ago, and it’s probably more harmful than good,” Ivester says.

Our Data Privacy Day website has resources for parents, teens and educators and more ways you can protect your privacy and manage your online reputation.