While the weather may not yet reflect it, at college campuses across the country, spring break -- or at least the anticipation of spring break -- is in the air.
And for many young people living in the age of Facebook and MySpace, spring break is a week that's not complete without a camera to capture the fun and games in their tropical, balmy destination of choice.
But spring breakers, here's a thought: Before going online to post those pictures of you and your friends dancing atop a table at Senor Frog's, know that your debauchery will probably pop up on many more screens than you intended. Potential employers, school administrators and admissions officers, and vindictive exes can see them too, and decades from now, when college is a mere memory, those photos will still live on the Web.
A generation of young people has grown up using the Internet as a personal diary. But faced with the reality that photos and information floating in cyberspace could come back to haunt them, many 20-somethings are thinking twice about what they post on the Internet.
People in the public eye have long been bitten by their Internet alter egos. Last week, 20-year-old "American Idol" contestant Antonella Barba came under fire after alleged topless photos of her surfaced on the Web. In November, Miss Nevada USA lost her crown after pageant officials found half-nude pictures of her on the Internet.
Most 20-somethings don't have a record deal or jeweled tiara at stake, but they do have burgeoning careers, and their Internet personas can come back to burn them in professional situations.
"I know somebody who didn't get hired because they were writing in their blog about what they were doing at all hours of the day and night, being out until four in the morning and then having to struggle to get to work," said Alison Doyle, Skidmore College's associate director of career services. "The employer found it and that was a flag when it came to hiring."
Doyle is one of many career services counselors making students aware of what can happen when they post personal information on the Internet. She finds that often young people don't realize that what they put up on a MySpace or Facebook page can be held against them by an employer.
"They believe that their personal life shouldn't have an impact on what they're doing professionally," Doyle said. "They think that this is me and my friends, it's my private life and it's none of the employer's business."
Rebecca Lammers, a Beloit College senior looking for a job in the music industry, isn't all that worried about potential bosses mining the Internet for dirt on her. Still, she admits that some of her Facebook pictures could give them the wrong impression.
"I have pictures of myself with my sorority and we're drinking and I don't think it would give the best impression to future employers," she said.
Most employers and HR professionals declined to comment on whether they use the Internet to research job and internship candidates. But an analyst at a major financial firm said he makes a habit of looking up college-age applicants on Facebook before interviewing them. By the time they walk through his door, he usually knows all about their social lives, whether they're as dry as their textbooks or alcohol-soaked.