What Does the Public Know About You?

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Earlier this year, Katie Stansberry conducted an experiment in the social media class she teaches at the University of Oregon. Here's her first-person account.

Every term I struggle with a conversation I have with my students at the start of the class. Because I teach about social media, I have a frank discussion with my undergraduate students about protecting their reputation. This term, I did something a little different.

I have only 17 students in my class, so the weekend before the first day of class I took a few hours and did a little online research. I spent about 10 minutes per student, digging through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other Web resources to find out what I could about their online identities. I took that information and put together a presentation introducing the class to their fellow students based solely on the facts that I could find online.

When I announced that instead of a typical get-to-know-you activity, I was going to show them what a future employer might find if they were checking them out as part of a hiring decision there were some nervous murmurs. However, as we went through the slides and discussed each student’s personal brand there were lots of good-natured laughs and some rueful grins. Several students learned that photos and comments they had thought were private were actually accessible to the public.

At the close of the exercise I invited the students to take 10 minutes to find out everything they could about me by surfing the Web. To my surprise, several students dug up an old Friendster profile that I had assumed was wiped out. My brilliant lesson turned out to be a true teaching moment. As someone who specializes in social media and reputation management I thought I had a pretty secure handle on my online brand. But even I need to stay on top of my social media presence.


I resolve to Google myself regularly, delete  outdated profiles and develop a cohesive online personal brand. I may be the social media professor, but my students taught me a big lesson.

- Katie is the community manager at ISTE Connects.