NY Times Editorial: Online Party Crashers

Editorial: Online Party Crashers

All good things must come to an end, including the chance to post lascivious photographs and diary entries on the Internet without repercussions. A generation that has come of age with blogging, Webcams and social networking sites is waking up to the fact that would-be employers are looking over their shoulders -- and adjusting their job offers.

Alan Finder reported in The Times last week that companies have moved from putting applicants' names through Google to checking sites like Facebook and MySpace. There are ethical concerns about corporate officers snooping through registration-only sites designed for students. But the first order of business is for the indiscreet to think twice.

Every generation has its shrinking violets, and plenty of high school and college students still comport themselves with dignity and decorum, but the standards of decency in public behavior have surely changed. Between reality television shows like "The Real World," and "Girls Gone Wild" videos, our culture has sent the message that acting stupid in front of a camera is a way to get attention or even start a career in show business. Many young people think nothing of posting intimate material on the Web, whether it's daily minutiae, personal poems or snapshots of a fraternity beer pong tournament.

What they are getting now is an education in the virtues of privacy.

The Internet feels private in certain ways that it isn't. Sharing posts with friends, fellow hobbyists or potential dates, a user could be forgiven for overlooking the possibility that a human resources executive might be zeroing in as well. So much attention has been focused on sexual predators and swindlers that it's easy to forget that businesses and the government want to retain the right to peruse our correspondence as well.

A recent survey found that more than a third of large American companies read their employees' outbound e-mail, and just under a third fired someone as a result. We are only just beginning to wake up to the wider ramifications of the Internet on the personal and the confidential. In the meantime, don't leave a digital trail. That photograph from your friend's party could be more than just embarrassing. It might cost you your dream job.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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