FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section about legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.
High school students spend inordinate amounts of time on Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites. They freely post spontaneous comments and communications, they upload provocative photos, and they send and receive racy videos of themselves and their friends.
Good fun, eh?
Well, there can be some serious repercussions. According to a paper just released by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), fully one fourth of colleges surveyed report that they implement Web search or social networking technology to find out more about applicants to their schools. Perhaps the number of colleges conducting such social networking "research" about prospective students will rise over time. So, that funny photo on Johnny's Facebook page showing him chugging beer while practically naked and while grabbing several scantily clad girls may come back to bite Johnny when he applies for admission to a prestigious and socially conservative college. Or Jane's striptease video performance on her MySpace page may keep her from being admitted to the college of her choice.
Sure, Johnny and Jane may intend for only their "friends" to see the intimate dirt on their pages, however, that doesn't prevent their "friends" from potentially leaking the content such that it ultimately gets in the hands of college admissions representatives.
Of course, the best advice is to tell teenagers that they should only put on their social networking pages information that they would not mind showing up on the front page of the newspaper. But, is that going to happen? Absolutely not.
Perhaps, over time, colleges may not be "shocked" to see prospective applicants engaging in usual teenage antics and shown on their social networking pages. After a while, the shock value may go down.
Remember the "horror" when the world found out that Gary Hart had not been faithful in his marriage? That doomed his Presidential aspirations.
But once it became publicly recognized that infidelity, whether you like it or not, is not unheard of in the United States, Bill Clinton sailed into the White House, notwithstanding proclamations of his adultery by Jennifer Flowers.
If college admissions offices were to root out all applicants who actually engaged in teenage antics when a teenager, their applicant pool likely would shrink rather substantially.
That is not to say that improper teenage behavior should be condoned, supported or encouraged. Rather, it is just a fact of life that even some "good" teenagers go off the reservation of morally pure behavior in their youth, and that less than stellar behavior may show up on their social networking pages.
Colleges likely will come to learn that one bad moment reflected on a Facebook or MySpace page does not doom the future college career of an applicant. Indeed, it is possible that some of the colleges' current students engage in similar behavior right on their own campuses.
Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP (http://www.duanemorris.com) where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is http://www.sinrodlaw.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line.
This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.