Online Social Networks: Student Perceptions and Behavior Across Four Countries

Online Social Networks: Student Perceptions and Behavior Across Four Countries

James Melton (Central Michigan University, USA), Robert Miller (Central Michigan University, USA) and Michelle Salmona (Australian National University, Australia)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/ijissc.2012040102
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Previous research has shown that many college students in the United States post content to social networking sites that they know would be considered inappropriate by employers and other authority figures. However, the phenomenon has not been extensively studied in cross-cultural context. To address this knowledge gap, a survey of college students in Australia, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the United States was conducted. The study found a universal tendency among the four groups: students knew the content they were posting would be considered inappropriate by employers and other authority figures, but they chose to post it anyway. The article also reports on differences in the way this tendency was manifested and on related aspects of social networking across cultures, including decisions about privacy and information disclosure.
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Today’s college students are the first generation to form online habits while in adolescence (Tapscott, 2008; Subrahmanyam et al., 2008), and they will be the first to go on the job market en masse with an online history. As such, they will also set the future trends and expectations in the diverse spheres of finance marketing, education, technology, and government policy. Their behavior today provides a window into online social networking behavior of tomorrow (McCreary, 2008; Subrahmanyam et al., 2008). At the same time, this history may have a proportionally larger effect on their career prospects than for older individuals (Gray & Christiansen, 2010). Older adults also use online social networks, but college-aged students are building their online history at a time in their lives when their online behavior may reflect a more experimental and less guarded lifestyle than would an older adult’s (Gray & Christiansen, 2010; McAfee, 2010; Clark & Roberts, 2010; Livingstone, 2008). Also, college students entering the job market lack work experience and extensive employer references, so their online history may play a proportionally larger role in an employer’s evaluation.

College students also have the opportunity to take an active role in using online social networks to influence their career prospects (Roberts & Roach, 2009). As the overlap between professional and personal life has increased through online social networking (Snyder, Carpenter, & Slauson, 2007), students must consciously shape the image that employers and others see or risk missing out on job opportunities (Bohnert & Ross, 2010). In a recent survey by Harris Interactive, nearly a quarter of hiring managers said they use online social networks to screen candidates, and 24% said what they found out about candidates through online social networks confirmed a hiring decision (Grasz, 2008). Social networking sites might also play a role in Career Preparation. Although Facebook use has been linked to lower student GPA and hours of study (Kirschner & Karpinski, 2010), students might also choose to use online social networks to connect with other students for studying and build an academic network, potentially enabling them to achieve better academic results (The Science of Class Collaboration, 2009). Students can also use social networks outside of formal classes to pool their creative efforts and promote events or causes they care about (Shirky, 2008, 2010).

Yet, students often only belatedly see that online social networking is a form of career building and marketing (Roberts & Roach, 2009; Jue, Marr, & Kassotakis, 2010; Brogan, 2010). In a study exploring student use of online social networks, Miller, Parsons, and Lifer (2009) identified what they called a “posting paradox” in American college students’ online behavior: the students believed the content they were posting would be considered inappropriate by authority figures such as parents or potential employers, but they chose to post it anyway. However, the closer these students were to college graduation and being on the job market, the more likely they were to self-censor the content of their online social networking accounts, suggesting an increasing concern over time about the negative effects of inappropriate content.

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