"I work very hard to make sure that I'm not saying anything or posting anything that could be used against me," said YSU senior Amy Hermance, 22, of Youngstown. Majoring in psychology, Hermance plans on securing a career in child counseling. She said she's aware that her Internet activity on social networking websites, such as MySpace and Facebook, could affect her ability to be hired.
"A lot of employers today are checking these kinds of sites to see if a potential candidate is found to have inappropriate pictures or comments," confirmed Joanne Gallagher, coordinator for Career and Counseling Services at YSU. "We always caution students to be very careful about that."
She suggests doing a Google search with your name and seeing what comes up; more than likely, what you see in the search results is the same thing an employer might see.
Bonnie Hazen / Tribune Chronicle
Youngstown State University senior Amy Hermance browses the Internet on her laptop at YSU.
"It could cost you getting the job," Gallagher warned. "If you are going to post anything, make sure it's professional."
Inappropriate photos could include pictures taken of alcohol consumption or participation in a wild party. Gallagher also said to monitor the language used and subject matter of posts.
"That's all negative in the eyes of an employer," she said.
Hermance said she's tried to warn her friends about the nature of the material they post online, but they don't listen. "It's nagging at this point," she said.
YSU graduate student Katie Sonntag, 24, recalled an incident that occurred at her former middle school in Grove City.
"The music teacher had a website from college some kids found it and took it to the school board," she explained. The teacher was placed on suspension by the Grove City Area School District in March 2003. "He was a cool teacher," she said.
Sonntag said if she were an employer, she would also take the Internet activity of her applicants into consideration, but she wouldn't take it quite as seriously. She also decided she isn't going to remove any of her online photos. "There are pictures of me at a party, and if they don't want me to go out and have a life, then I don't want to work for them," she said.
Andrea Zura, 21, of Campbell, recalled an angry blog that she posted online a couple of years ago. The post caused problems with a family member and resulted in her Internet privileges being revoked by her parents.
"I later realized how childish it was of me," she said.
YSU psychology professor Rick Fry said when people are posting something online that may be potentially harmful, they aren't thinking about the negative consequences.
"They're caught up in the moment, caught up in the excitement," he said. "Their orientation is not on the negative consequences, but on some positive consequence that they hope to create some sort of effect that's going to benefit them in some way."
Hermance said people say things online that they normally wouldn't in person. "The thing about the Internet is, it's a very convenient mask. It's a shield," she said. "There's no threat of repercussion. There's no authority."
Due to the lack of nonverbal communication, there's a larger risk of things being taken out of context. Sarcasm, for instance, is difficult to convey without a tone of voice to accompany it and may be taken the wrong way. When that happens, Hermance said, the damage is permanent. "What's said is said. You can't take it back."
Gallagher also warned about the possibility of permanent damage with regard to the Internet: "Once something is out there in cyberspace, it never really goes away people may still have access to it."