Fred plunked down on his cozy leather chair which he lovingly called the “Captains Chair” after his grandad's favorite TV Show, Star Trek. First thing on his agenda, as always, was to activate his computing screen which started up to his trusty companion, MyBook. Fred had been using this website for the last 30 years in some fashion. Back then, he was in seventh grade. It was called Facebook then. It was the rage with students and the rage with parents and teachers for another reason.
On December 19, 2007, Pew released their latest numbers revealing that:
“Content creation by teenagers continues to grow, with 64% of online teenagers ages 12 to 17 engaging in at least one type of content.”
With many schools blocking the use of blogs and providing no digital citizenship courses, students are left to figure out the effective way to do these things by themselves.
Back then (then he went by the name Freddie) they unfortunately didn't have categories like they do now, and he couldn't customize the site depending on his relationship with a person. So, he literally lost everything when he got serious about college mid way through his 11th grade year.
What he would do to have back the cell phone video shot after his 8th grade basketball team won the Christmas invitational! Or that video of he and his grandad at their last Christmas just before he died.
But, he wanted to go to college and admissions offices used services that allowed them to peek into the crevices of the personal lives of anyone on facebook in those days, so he sacrificed his memories on the altar of his future.
“Spokeo finds information about your friends—long-lost or not—and then tracks their online activities as they make updates. These friends don’t have to “invite” you, approve your friend “request,” or be a member of Spokeo. Spokeo is able to, for example, monitor their Facebook notes and shares, YouTube videos, Amazon wishlists, Flickr and PhotoBucket photos, Pandora favorites, MySpace updates, Twitter tweets, personal websites, and blogs.”
Such services are yet another way for people to track others who may be unaware of their presence. This allows the likes, dislikes, and personal habits of a person to be followed and tracked without the knowledge of the specimen who is being watched.
Many college admissions offices have made it evident that they view online networking information as part of their admissions process. This sparked a November 30th, 2007 editorial in North Carolina State's Online Newspaper stating:
“According to Thomas Griffin, director of Admissions, admissions officers “don't go seeking out information on students through social networks unless they need information on a particular applicant.”
Saying that Admissions has looked at profiles a few times, Griffin was vague on what information they look for on these sites, saying they look for “red flags.”
So, a student who passes all AP exams, has a 4.0 GPA, a great SAT, lots of community service, but posts some inappropriate text or graphics on their facebook page has created “red flags” that will remove them from scholarship opportunities and even worse, admissions opportunities.
Photographs don't have any explanation or context except for those who are there. Additionally, photoshop and other easy to use photography services allow ad hoc modification of any photograph… meaning that photographs are less trustworthy than any time in history.
This process is become more widespread with Brown University and others admitting to using the site to check candidates. Accordingly, students are recommended to “clean up” their facebook accounts before applying for college and to scholarships.
But, Freddie had received great benefits from cleaning up his account. He received a little known scholarship by uploading a video to Facebook. After becoming a finalist, the contest opened up the videos for voting. This was when Freddie's 400+ friends became his best friends. Their advocacy allowed him to win the scholarship and pay for college. Because of this scholarship, he was able to afford to go to a more prestigious college than he had originally planned.
Chris Lyle, of Ocean Springs High School recently won a $10,000 scholarship by:
“upload[ing] a video to the Champs Sports group on facebook.com as part of the nationwide “Are you a Champs Sports Champion?” contest this past November. The challenge asked contestants to show why they're a Champion on the field, in the classroom or in their community.”
Chris is a football player, a member of the Spanish Club, a member of Future Business Leaders of America, medical volunteer at a local hospital and also the first black student at his school to be elected as senior class President. However, it was his video uploaded on Facebook that earned him the scholarship.
There is a rapid proliferation of scholarships being offered via youtube (check out the hear me scholarship contest) facebook , and myspace! And with more scholarships opening up live voting (see the $10,000 live College Toolkit scholarship), that facebook or myspace network could come in handy for your students! More scholarships are allowing audio essays or videos (California's Save Me a Spot in College Scholarship.)
Students need their network and need an easy way to communicate with that network. Students can reap the benefit from being networked with many opportunities emerging daily from a society hungry for leaders who understand this perplexing new medium.
Freddie's winning of the scholarship and knowledge of network use caused him to be a highly sought after freelance writer and consultant during his college years, but he had managed most of those relationship on a sister website akin to facebook called LinkedIn. For the most part he tried to keep his “personal” (facebook) and “professional” (linked in) life separate, but it was very hard to do and took a lot of explaining when he rejected the friend request of an important client who found him on Facebook. Freddie was one of the few who was able to do this successfully, and it was hard to remember where you knew someone and the primary purpose of the relationship.
Freelancing is on the rise with 31% of businesses expecting to have a relationship with freelancers in 2008 in one survey. Sites like sologig.com are on the rise, as well as the use of trade associations and other organizations to find work and new employment opportunities. Linked In has more than 17 million professionals who have joined and it is rapidly become a place to find employment, freelance work, and ask questions of a professional network of your associates and friends.
With some companies advocating Facebook Fridays and other companies requiring blogging, knowing how to network and communicate online is an essential skill with many of today's famous authors, movie stars, and rock stars boasting prolifically viral networks via Facebook and myspace.
When Freddie went to college, he let his facebook go again! The account filled with photos full of fresh faces and fun times with friends. In fact, one particularly dumb evening, he did something that still haunts him to this day. During the event he uploaded the photo from his cell phone to facebook and forgot about it.
Just last week, he received an anonymous e-mail from the person who has that photo. Although Freddie cleaned up his account again his senior year of college, this photo was copied and kept by someone (he wishes he knew who) who Freddie though to be a “friend” (but then again, back then he'd had around 1000, so who knows!) If this photograph came out, a photo taken out of context when he was off with friends, could ruin the rest of his professional career and other parts of his life.
This was precisely why Mybook now protected photographic zones from copy and “screen snag” to protect the rights of the photograph owner, just so blackmail situations as this could be prevented, although nothing was completely “copy proof.”
Miss New Jersey was forced to share her public pictures on the Today show when one of her “friends” copied them and threatened to blackmail her and mail them to the news outlets.
Wall Street Journal's college edition advises students to “Clean up their Facebook” accounts. Inappropriate photos are coming back to “haunt” people now. Imagine in 20 years when someone is running for president if he or she has to account for every photo taken in college!
In addition to his freelance work, Freddie was also a blogger. He wrote about facebook and other social networking sites like his idol, Danah Boyd, the phD student of the 2000's who was the envy of all of college education with her pioneering blogging of the Internet which made her everyone's expert EXCEPT some in academia who didn't feel her credentials matched up.
Freddie knew that his very future would sprout from the seeds of change he planted today and took his blogging very seriously.
Danah Boyd is the definitive researcher for studying social networks which has happened primarily PRIOR to the receipt of her PhD. Brian Benzinger, former Georgia Tech Student, went on to graduate with an associates degree from Gibbs college so that he could start work at age 20 has an extremely popular blog, the Solution Watch which has made him known world wide as a top evaluator of new websites.
Freddie also worked with his professors to create some projects to study social networking. This work linked him with many valuable contacts for his future.
An article in the Washington Post entitled Facebook et al enter academia says:
“In the last six months, Rochester Institute of Technology scored $150,000 from the National Science Foundation to develop courses in computer-based social networking, Cornell got $2 million for research, and the University of Michigan added a “social computing” concentration to its School of Information. You can now major in MySpace, sort of.”
Fred could go on with his story, but not much time was left for that. He never had to interview for a job, because his blogging work, research, freelance work, and network of friends just morphed into an opportunity (although he did clean up his facebook again just before graduating from college — many more memories lost.)
But he didn't have time to think any more about his history, Fred had a future made by this amazing network of his life. Fred has a company to run and a vision for that company, a vision that emerged from thirty years of using social networks.
Walking to his door, Fred looked at the shiny new plaque beside his door which workmen were affixing with care. “Mr. Fred Davis, C.E.O. MyBook” Yes, there was a lot of work to do.
Author's Note: To my readers, I've been working on this post for fully two weeks, and wouldn't have posted it today except that I made myself do it. There are so many things I could include and I expect to improve and modify this article. If you see something you think should be added to Freddie's life, let me know. (and if you see it come through your feed reader a few more times, know that I want it to be right.) Truly, the heart and soul of who I am has been poured into this story.
I am inspired and humbled because I need to improve so much as a writer. I want to make a difference and right what I see happening. Truly the two faces of social networking are exciting and frightening at the same time. However, I feel that the wrong answer is to ban students completely from these networks. As always, I believe education is a vital part of helping more Freddie's benefit in the future by what we do today.
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