A recent Washington Post piece argues that Gen Z’s “digital footprints” will haunt them. Here is Tatum Hunter:
Aly Drake says she used TikTok like a diary. When she felt friendless, she’d make a video about it. When she noticed the symptoms of her bipolar disorder or wondered if an ex was still thinking about her, she’d open the app and press record.
It helped that she was “obsessed” with understanding the app’s algorithm and what content performed well, the 19-year-old said. On TikTok, her videos reached people who understood her and what she was going through, she said.
But her videos also reached the coaches of the college water ski program she hoped to join. They sent her an email saying her videos were “too negative,” she said. And she was denied a spot on the team.
“I was just talking about how I feel. It’s supposed to be a good thing to do that,” Drake, who has 4,000 TikTok followers, said. “It was pretty shocking to see the consequences of the way you post.”
Drake ended up starting her college application process from scratch. She declined to name the program that denied her to protect her reputation as a current college athlete.
Drake and her peers are in a tough spot. Raised on the internet and isolated by the pandemic, their social lives have played out on apps like TikTok. While corporate social media campaigns “raised awareness” around subjects like mental health and body positivity, young people shared their experiences in droves. But as they hit college or the working world, they’re met with a harsh reality: The standard of professionalism among older generations hasn’t changed, and it doesn’t make room for the type of authenticity social media companies tend to encourage.
In rejecting Drake’s request for a spot on the team, the coaches noted, according to an email shared by Drake: “If we want to grow in sponsorships and donations, we must prove to the university and to the community that we appreciate their support.”
Read the rest here.
I wonder how hard the Washington Post had to dig to find a college student who had an experience like this. Note also that the group that rejected her was not college admissions, but coaches of a specialty team. WP uses that to suggest, without evidence, that the problem is wider.
This caught my eye because I recall a spate of fantastical fearmongery think pieces like this about 10-11 years ago in academia, warning graduate students especially in the humanities that they shouldn’t have blogs or be on the internet at all because a hiring committee might not like something they posted there and reject them. When I served on a hiring committee myself I realized the reality is that no one on a hiring committee has time to churn through applicants’ social media. Most of the time they don’t even have time to read the materials in a candidate’s official submission package, so they’re not going to go trolling through somebody’s TikTok. I can’t imagine the same isn’t true of college admissions officers. Coaches perhaps, and that’s creepy as hell, but not college admissions officers.
Do better, Washington Post.
I am inclined to agree with Sean above. There was definitely a conventional wisdom in the early days of Facebook that employers would look for photos of improper behavior (e.g., drinking alcohol prior to age 21). But as far as I can tell that never came to be. Of course most people in that generation eventually realized it was prudent to take their profiles private to friends-only. (My understanding is that this option is also available on Tiktok, but I don’t know how often users take it.)