Could Facebook make binge-drinking job-friendly?

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For obvious reasons, any social networking business benefits from less privacy: the more freely accessible content, the more time users spend online, the more ad revenue. On Facebook, new users’ profiles are public without any warning, and photos albums have the minimal privacy setting by default.

The big side effect of social networking has been social transparency — never before has it been easier to tell what your coworkers’ vices are. Facebook alone seems poised to radically change the workplace expectations of one’s private life. By far the most common social networking liability is evidence of binge drinking, especially for college students.

In four-year colleges, almost half of students binge drink (about 80 percent consume alcohol), similar to the rest of the 18-to-25-year-old demographic. And according to a 2008 CareerBuilder survey, more than one in five hiring managers checks social networking sites to screen candidates. The top concern? More than 40 percent said information relating to alcohol and drug use.

Statistically, there are likely drinking photos already online of a future CEO of Google, and perhaps a future American president. Last year, it’s unlikely that Obama could have been elected if photos of his college transgressions surfaced online. If the norm today is for students to incriminate themselves online, it may be unusual if a presidential candidate doesn’t have similar photos in 20 years.

In one school of thought, college binge drinking is unethical, unhealthy and unnecessary, heavily increasing the prevalence of crime and sexual assaults. In another, it’s a necessary component of socializing, consequences be damned. Perhaps another one will emerge: Evidence of binge drinking doesn’t make a job candidate less attractive, simply because it’s so common.

A factor in Facebook’s role in changing social norms is that humans tend to overestimate their peer’s negative behaviors, particularly in college. Karen Moses, director of ASU Wellness and Health Promotion, said in an April interview that this “self-induced peer pressure” is a major factor in students’ drug use and other reckless pursuits: We imagine our fellow students’ bad habits as more widespread than they are. So one of the better ways to reach students is to simply tell them what their peers are really doing, Moses said. For instance, rather than just advising against drunk driving, advertisements around ASU declare that 79 percent of ASU students use a designated driver when they drink.

By this logic, it seems Facebook is an enormous contributor to a culture of binge drinking. A minority of one’s social network might have embarrassing photos. So if a student doesn’t incriminate himself or herself online, is the assumption that they’ve just buried the evidence?

Reach Matt at
matt.culbertson@asu.edu