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Posted 10:19 am
October 9, 2012

Gov. Jerry Brown bars college officers from demanding applicants' social media information

SF State

Derrick Sykes, 21, right, checks his Twitter account as he takes a break from studying inside the J. Paul Leonard Library in San Francisco Monday, Oct. 9, 2012. California Gov. Jerry Brown passed the Social Media Privacy Act, which prohibits college administrators from demanding applicants to share their social media information. Sykes checks his Twitter five to 10 times per hour. Photo by Godofredo Vasquez / Xpress

Students have a little less to worry about when it comes to privacy on social media sites thanks to recent legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown passed SB 1349, the Social Media Privacy Act, Sept. 27, which will protect students from revealing their Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts to colleges and universities in California. SF State alumnus Sen. Leland Yee authored the bill. A similar law was also passed to prohibit companies from demanding or requesting an employee’s social media information.

“It looks like it was (a) growing trend nationally and was happening on a mass scale,” Adam Keigwin, spokesman for Yee, said.

Keigwin said in a competitive market where admission officers are scouting for the best students to represent their schools, many would take advantage of the individual’s willingness to increase their chances for an acceptance letter by requesting personal social media pages.

“Even though you don’t want to, most people would hand it over,” Keigwin said.

Yee proposed the bill back in February after seeing a growing trend of universities throughout the country demanding that an applicant or current student turn over their personal information.

According to Jieun Choe, executive director of college admissions and K-12 programs of Kaplan Test Prep, approximately 25 percent of U.S. college admission officers admitted to using Facebook and other social media sites to investigate prospective students.

“Admissions officers recognize that the traditional application — the essays, the letters of recommendation — is the polished and edited version of an applicant,” Choe said. “Often what’s found online is the raw version of an applicant.”

Kaplan Test Prep, a provider of educational and career services for individuals, schools and businesses, conducts a yearly survey of admissions officers at the nation’s 500 top college admission officers throughout the country. The survey showed that for recruiting purpose, 87% of colleges use Facebook; 76% use Twitter; and 76% use YouTube — increases from 2011.

In previous Kaplan surveys, a few admission officers admitted to asking for an applicant’s social media username and password during an interview. Others either “friended ” or “liked” a similar page using a bogus name to gather information about the student. Others simply looked at photos and updates if exposed due to inadequate privacy settings. According to the report, students who appeared to be involved in organizations were most likely to get admitted, whereas posts with vulgar comments or photos negatively affected admission chances.

Yee noticed this type of application process was growing in recent years both in universities and work, and said it was a violation of civil rights because the sites also mention an applicant’s marital status, sexual orientation and religion. Schools observing this personal information may hold embarrassing information that the applicant may not want others to know.

“By passing this law, we’re preventing lawsuits in the future,” Keigwin said.

Deborah Magalaya, an undeclared sophomore at SF State, said she was aware of the practice and was relieved it would no longer be permitted.

“I’d rather not have other people see my personal information because it’s not their business to know all that,” Magalaya said.

Jonathan Schumer, a business major, said people need to be careful about what is used on social media sites since they are public forums accessible to almost anyone including family members and employers.

“My mom is on Twitter and Instagram,” Schumer said. “That in itself determines what I say or add because she has access to mine.”

Choe recommends that students be extremely cautious of what is posted on any social media site, regardless of the law.


The story has been revised to say that Kaplan Test Prep’s survey revealed the percentage of schools using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to recruit students, not to evaluate them. The study showed that universities actually used social media for recruitment, not evaluation.