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One year ago, I asked a sophomore friend about eating club initiations. I questioned him further about the specifics of the centuries-old rites and rituals surrounding these infamous events, so he showed me firsthand what they were like by whipping out his iPhone and scrolling through posts on social media. As he flipped through them, I was appalled at what I saw.

His friends had posted photos of themselves doing illicit drugs, playing drinking games, and engaging in other debaucherous activities. While I don’t intend to cast judgement on any of these acts, we shouldn’t post them online.

Anything can go viral at the click of a button. Posting pictures like these can have grave consequences in someone’s future professional and personal lives. Just four years ago, a lewd photo from a Tiger Inn party created a national scandal for two Princeton students. As the Street’s holiest weekend approaches, I urge all of my classmates to exercise caution when posting about their late-night escapades on social media.

Employers increasingly use the Internet to evaluate job applicants. A 2017 survey by CareerBuilder found that 70 percent of employers use social media to screen candidates before hiring them. Over half of employers have found something on applicants’ social media accounts that caused them to not hire the candidates. With statistics like these, students should think twice before posting their beer pong photos.

Director of Career Services Evangeline Kubu said in an interview that the practice of using social media to screen applicants “is a trend for recruiters in all industries. They are starting to use artificial intelligence and predictive analytics and algorithms to source candidates and build a strong pool of applicants.” She emphasized that while having a strong résumé is still good, positive social profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, and across the internet are also needed in professional life.

Even after an applicant is hired, employers are still screening their social media to determine if they should keep them on staff. In 2009, a school district fired a teacher after a parent complained about her posting pictures of herself drinking alcohol and playing an obscene game. Two years later, nobody could stop talking about how Representative Anthony Weiner tweeted a vulgar photo that forced him to resign from Congress. 

The repercussions from embarrassing pictures don't stop at one's professional life. They can affect private life, too. The online identity protection agency BrandYourself found that 43 percent of singles have Googled their dates before going out with them.

Beyond Google, I know of people who dig through their dates’ social media accounts. Students send all kinds of outrageous photos through Snapchat, believing that the app will permanently delete their embarrassing pictures after a few seconds. But nothing ever dies on the Internet. A photo recipient could easily take a screenshot and forward the picture to dozens of other people or repost it with a tag.

If students are worried about their online presence, they should take advantage of Career Services’ one-on-one appointments with career advisers. They can give advice on cleaning up accounts and creating good media for recruitment. Additionally, Princeton Social Media Day on April 13 will provide further tips, consultations, and resources for positive usage of social media. 

Kubu tells students, “A lot of people will Google you. How do you want to project yourself online?” Students should ask themselves this question before putting any picture online. If one would be uncomfortable sharing a picture to a grandmother or McKinsey recruiter, then it shouldn't be posted on social media. Instead, make posts about your interests, hobbies, or interactions with new people. 

Eating club initiations jump-start the beginning of new social lives for many students. But don’t let social media pictures from them put a brake on the beginning of our careers.

April 13 will provide further tips, consultations, and resources for positive usage of social media.

Liam O’Connor is a sophomore from Wyoming, Delaware. He can be reached at lpo@princeton.edu.

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