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Put Your Best Face Forward: The new Facebook Timeline, Privacy and what it means for users

Whether you’re a new face looking for a friend in the law library corridors or a long suffering student staring down the clerkship/someone-please-give-me-work-experience barrel, keeping up appearances and creating good impressions are constantly on your mind.

So what can leap immaculate academic records, perfect resumes and charming smiles in a single bound?


Our procrastinating could come back to haunt us

As a Law/ Communications student I’ve spent the last three years having “WHAT GOES ON THE WEB STAYS ON THE WEB” being lectured into my head.

This started to sink in half way through my first year when I discovered that in 2008, Master David Harper of the ACT Supreme Court ruled that court notices could, in some circumstances, be served via Facebook (MKM Capital v Corbo and Poyser).

These cases are rare and often unreported, but it certainly made me take notice and go into privacy lockdown. Several clicks of the “friends only” option later and a Facebook created for friends and another for employers and acquaintances, I started to think I knew my privacy settings a little better.

But with the new Timeline format being rolled out, I was again confronted with the very public element of Facebook in the form of my entire online history. Everything that I thought had been lost years ago, overseas photos, statuses from school and wall posts from ex-boyfriends resurfaced for myself (and potentially the rest of the world) to examine!

While it can be fun to reminisce, I’m just not sure I’m comfortable with my many years of social networking being so readily available to be stalked or picked through by anyone, let alone a possible future employer.

So what can you do to ensure your online past does not again become the present?

1. Get Timeline

Like most people, I find change particularly irritating, especially when it requires re-learning something I’ve been capable of doing for years. However, Timeline is being implemented whether you like it or not and unless you want to quit Facebook (a move which could see your law marks skyrocket) then you’re going to be stuck with it anyway. Opting in now will mean you get a seven-day grace period to clean up your page before it goes public. I know uni semester is well underway, but for once we are encouraging you to put down those textbooks and start FACEBOOKING.

2. Understand your Privacy Settings

Facebook is in the business of accumulating data and the new layout is designed for optimum collection. It’s now a scrapbook of your entire life visibly laid out in chronological order. While it may make you uncomfortable that the site knows the intimate details of your life, it should alarm you more that strangers could as well. Just like you wouldn’t walk down the street sharing personal information, you shouldn’t do it online. Know your privacy settings and spend a few hours going through them. Remember to also recheck them on a regular basis. If you don’t understand a privacy setting, err on the side of caution and choose the ‘only me’ or ‘friends only’ functions.

3. Know your Friends

While deciding who to friend or de-friend can be a socially awkward and highly political exercise, it’s important to realise that it may not be appropriate for all your friends, work mates or that drunk girl/guy you made best buddies with on the weekend, to be privy to every online conversation you have. We all have different ways of acting around certain people that are appropriate for the situation. Facebook can be a dangerous place when all these friendships intersect. Don’t get caught posting about how much work sucks and having your boss read it!

Remember Timeline now ensures that is all plain to see on your wall. Utilise the new friendship list function and group your friends accordingly. You can limit what each group can view every time you post by selecting your friendship audience at the bottom of the post.

4. Accentuate the Positive

In this day and age the possibility of not having your Facebook profile screened by potential employers is minimal. Last year UK based psychology firm OPP presented findings to the British Psychological Society Conference on occupational psychology, which found that 56 precent of employers in the UK checked the social networking profiles of potential employees. It’s most likely going to happen so why not use it to your advantage? Create an online profile that showcases what you wish an employer to see. List your achievements, interests and post what you think an employer wants in a new recruit. Make your page an online resume and show yourself off. Use social media to your advantage!

Thankfully my obsessive privacy regime and my decision to implement Facebook Timeline before it was forced upon me has allowed me to have a week to check over my page without anyone else being able to scrutinise my online younger self.

Timeline isn’t necessarily an awful new platform but it should be approached with a bit of caution. There’s a problematic aspect with its ability to capture your past as well as your present. Your history is exposed for all to see and judge. It’s not only the present you, we are viewing, but simultaneously the person you used to be.

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