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Virtually unfixable 

As college students, we receive a constant stream of information. With the advent of social media, online shopping, dating websites and blogs, it seems more of the world goes virtual every day.

How do we sort through the buzz of status updates, posts, blogs and tweets to discern the rules of this new social order?

In writing her new novel, With Just One Click, Boston resident Amanda Strong delved into the possibilities of social networking, and she discovered that there actually aren't rules — a frightening fact to consider when the virtual world stands to impact the real one. "The whole world has changed because people don't really know how to react to this whole global social media movement," Strong tells the Indy.

Relationships can now be affected by the click of a mouse or the touch of a key, and a computer screen can give rise to curiosity and temptation that Strong believes you need to be aware of. "Whatever you post, if it's your words or your pictures, will be timeless in the world of social networking, so that can come back to haunt you in some cases."

Paul Guidry, who teaches criminal justice at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, has been on Facebook for about two years. He's Facebook friends with about 100 current and former students. But Guidry doesn't seek out students himself; rather, he only confirms or denies requests sent to him. He feels similarly to Strong about the need for caution.

The rise of the Internet has changed the face of criminal justice by presenting a whole new frontier with which to access information, Guidry says. But that same flow of information presents security concerns. Many schools use course management systems, such as Blackboard or Moodle, that provide a monitored, academic setting for blogs and professor-student interaction — and a way to separate personal and professional relations.

Once a student's friend base expands to include professors and professionals on sites with casual social aims, then their content must be managed differently. His best advice?

"If you're typing something and your gut all of a sudden says, 'Hmmm, I don't know if I'd put that out there' — your gut is probably right."

Strong encourages students to use privacy settings and to choose their online connections wisely. As friend counts rise, people become less mindful of their separate connections, and more apt to post something that could turn out to be what Guidry calls a "career-killer." He's advised students to deactivate their online accounts while applying for jobs, because employers do now regularly visit sites to look for red flags.

Strong says people often share too much. "They become so comfortable with posting what they're doing, or posting pictures of their night out, that they don't understand that everybody is going to see that." So reflect before hitting enter or post, and always remember that the Internet is a public domain.

Control yourself just as you would in public, Guidry says, even in the heat of the moment. Just because you're behind a computer screen, your words and actions won't necessarily be more hidden than they are when you're on Tejon Street. In the absence of technical rules, perhaps it just comes down to the Golden Rule. According to Guidry, "It's just like being in class: You still need to respect everyone else."

  • When your online behavior downloads into real life, it's not always a friendly scene.

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