By Jake Palmateer
ONEONTA _ A moment of indiscretion captured by a camera lens can send a job seeker's resume to the bottom of a garbage can, a group of State University College at Oneonta students warned Thursday.
What may be worse, photos or comments posted on social networking websites such as MySpace or Facebook can result in a person getting fired, said Stacey Elderbroom, co-creator of the Protect Your Privates campaign.
The campaign to highlight the negative consequences of online posting, which will be fully launched in spring, includes several advertisements created by Elderbroom and fellow seniors Erikka Olszewski, Kara Guadagno and James Elio. The students are seniors majoring in communications.
"It's an awareness campaign," Guadagno said.
Employers have become very savvy to the wealth of personal information that is just a click away on the Internet, she said.
"The first thing they do is search your name on the Internet," Guadagno said.
A survey of 100 students done in conjunction with the project showed 96 had a Facebook account and 64 had a MySpace account.
Seventy-eight said they have never read the privacy policies of the companies, and 70 said they had made Internet posts they would not want their grandmother, potential employer or significant other to see, according to the survey.
The initiative grew out of a project in the students' Creating Persuasive Campaigns class this fall. The students are working with college administrators to bring the project to the entire college and the general public by using local and college media.
"We'd like to have different target audiences," Olszewski said.
The campaign has several advertisements and public-service announcements, some of which use sexual innuendo to appeal specifically to college students. It includes posters and radio and television spots, including a commercial and poster featuring SUCO President Alan Donovan.
The campaign also maintains a website, www.protectyourprivates.com, that is available on the SUCO campus now and will be publicly accessible in the spring.
The website provides Internet links to news stories documenting the phenomenon.
It's not just college students who are finding that what they posted on the Internet is coming back to haunt them.
A 29-year-old police officer from Ohio was fired from his department after he posted photos of evidence from criminal cases and of the speedometer of a police car going 100 mph on MySpace; he was the subject of a recent ABC News story.
People across the country have been fired for "not living up to the moral code of the company," Elderbroom said.
Facebook and MySpace have 162 million users who post roughly 14 million photos daily, Elio said.
Employers use Google and other search engines and have caught on to the use of Facebook and MySpace as a way to weed out potential employees by looking for incriminating photos or messages, he added.
MySpace is owned by Google.
Employers aren't the only ones perusing those websites for reasons other than social networking.
Cam Allison, a former detective with the Oneonta Police Department who is the undersheriff for Otsego County, said the sites can be an important tool for law enforcement.
"We've used them in the past for numerous investigations," Allison said.
Postings on the websites can even affect presidential campaigns.
The students pointed to the national headlines made by Rudolph Giuliani's daughter's support for Barack Obama as referenced on her Facebook page.
Specialty websites such as Rapleaf.com make it easier to find someone on the Internet, Guadagno said.
Rapleaf is a service anyone can use to track a person's e-mail address to determine if that activity that address was used for on the Internet.
In less than an hour, Rapleaf.com tracks down information, including direct links to Myspace or Facebook pages associated with that person's e-mail address.
The students say they are not opposed to the Internet.
"We still encourage Internet usage, just in a more appropriate manner," Elio said. "You are the only person who can protect yourself."
A central focus of the campaign is to encourage people to use privacy settings on Facebook and Myspace intended to keep their pages viewable only by a select audience.
As part of their project, the students perused Facebook for photos of their classmates partying using the methods an employer might use. They did this without their classmates' knowledge until the project was unveiled.
Some of the students were embarrassed and others were upset, Elderbroom said.
But the use of the photos proved students could be seen and used by anybody unless they took steps to limit it, she said.
"It's better to have us do it than have your employer do it," Elderbroom said.
She said her group made sure that nothing illegal was depicted in the photos before they were used.
"They went straight home. Put their accounts on private and took the pictures off," Guadagno said.
MySpace and Facebook can even be used to give job seekers an advantage through posting photos and comments on accounts without privacy settings that might appeal to prospective employers, they said.
Elio said some people have gone so far with this idea as to create social networking pages designed solely to promote a person's skills.
"You have the chance to show an employer positive things," Guadagno said. "It's absolutely an opportunity to make the best out of yourself."