Social media is a two-edged sword for students

By Richard Hurley, Ph.D., J.D., CFE, CPA; George R. Young, Ph.D., CFE, CPA

george-young-80x70   richard-hurley-80x80.jpg   Fraud Edge: A forum for fraud-fighting faculty in higher ed


Remember in ancient days when a picture was worth a thousand words? Now, one click is worth a million viewers. Social media is here to stay. Facebook claims it has more than 1 billion active monthly users. Twitter claims 200 million users. According to a Pew Research Center study on the Internet conducted in late 2012, 67 percent of adults use Facebook, 16 percent use Twitter and 15 percent use Pinterest. 

Even the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had to acknowledge that social media is the new norm. On April 2, the SEC released a report stating that users can provide public disclosures for corporate communications with social media channels if users comply with fair disclosure regulations. The SEC’s announcement followed its investigation of Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix Inc. and his first-time use of his personal Facebook account as a way to provide corporate metrics and whether Hasting’s action violated regulations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

Therein lies the major problem with quick-trigger social media senders. Sometimes they don’t think of consequences before they submit messages into cyber space. Social media requires caution, restraint and common sense. 

As educators and anti-fraud practitioners we can use social media apps and sites to research, investigate cases of suspected fraud and conduct background-hiring checks. That’s helpful. Students, however, can quickly post questionable comments and photos that can come back to bite them when prospective employees do name searches. That’s harmful. 


Social media brings people together, but it also plays a big role in disseminating information on a variety of subjects, including investments. According to a study published in March 2011 in the Journal of Computational Science, academicians Johan Bollena, Huina Maoa and Xiaojun Zengb found that the mood reflected in Twitter messages predicted the move days ahead, with almost 88 percent accuracy, of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. 

It’s no wonder, then, that perpetrators use this powerful medium to influence the market and entice victims to buy fraudulent securities. As a result, the FBI has assigned agents to scour the Internet for signs of securities fraud. The agency believes that social media sites like Twitter play an important role in perpetrating investment frauds (“FBI Uses Twitter, Social Media to Look for Securities Fraud,” Reuters). 

Before students become fraud fighters they, too, can benefit from the positive aspects of social media sites. If they join groups that are related to their work interests they can demonstrate to potential employers that they’re serious about such topics as fraud examination. They can do this on social media sites such as LinkedIn, which 20 percent of U.S. adults use for business networking, according to Pew Internet Project research. 

Consider giving students these suggestions about using LinkedIn:
  • Keep information current. Some employers are now using LinkedIn to identify potential hires. 
  • Send connection requests to university and ACFE student chapter guest speakers and those who attend professional meetings; they could be potential employers. 
  • Carefully consider whom to link to. (“You are whom you associate with.”)
  • Be discriminating whom you recommend plus what you write in your recommendations and how you write them. 
  • Endorse only those you truly believe deserve it. 


Most students know about the dangers of misusing social media but they continue to do it. Even professionals occasionally slip up. Consider these examples: 

  • Chrysler’s media agency fired an employee who used an expletive in one of her tweets. She had intended to use her personal Twitter account but mistakenly used the business account, according to “Worker FIRED for F-Bomb Tweet On Chrysler Twitter Account” in the March 10, 2013, Huffington Post.
  • A teacher from Georgia posted, on Facebook, a comment that included an expletive and photographs of her drinking alcohol. Although her page was private, the postings offended several fellow teachers who were Facebook friends; her principal asked her to resign or face suspension, according to “Former Teacher Sues For Being Fired For Facebook Pics,” Nov. 11, 2009, on 
  • A woman working at National Suisse in Switzerland called in sick; she complained of migraines and said that she needed to be in a darkened room. Her employer fired her when someone noticed that she was active on Facebook during working hours, according to “Facebooking while out sick gets employee fired,” by Erik Palm, April 27, 2009, on 
  • Thirteen airline crew members were fired for complaining about work and insulting passengers in Facebook discussions, according to “Virgin flight crew fired for insulting passengers via Facebook,” by Stevie Smith, Nov. 3, 2008, The Tech Herald.  

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