Dissecting the Facebook

When I originally set out to write the “con” side for Postscript’s dissection of the Facebook phenomenon, the first things that came to mind were the minor irritants: random “friend collectors” who are somehow friends with me and 300 other people at Queen’s, or the completely pointless groups people create, invite me and then never update again.

The list could go on. However, I decided to do more background research before I started on this piece, and I was mildly disturbed by what I uncovered. Facebook, for those who still haven’t heard about it, is an online directory that links college or university students. It was started at Harvard by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004 and has since swept across the U.S. and into Canada. Queen’s became part of the Facebook network in May 2005. If you just recently became a member—like me—you’re probably still in the honeymoon stage with Facebook: gleefully recording inside jokes and catch phrases on all your friends’ “walls” and uploading random pictures of yourself drinking/smoking/being scandalous and intriguing in various ways. All over the U.S. however, campus newspapers are reporting incidents of Facebooking gone wrong. Earlier this year, the president of the student government at Fisher College in Boston was expelled from the school because of some comments he had made in a Facebook group. The group had been created by students to vent about an unpopular campus police sergeant. The student in question tried to start a petition on Facebook, demanding the sergeant be kicked off campus. He later maintained that the Facebook group was only a joke. School administrators obviously weren’t amused.

At the University of North Carolina, Missouri University, Northern Kentucky University and the University of California Santa Barbara, there have been incidents where students have been disciplined for school code of conduct violations—mainly underage drinking—that administrators discovered while looking at photos posted on students’ Facebook profiles.

In a related—and hilarious—Facebook incident, a student at Brandeis University in Massachusetts was shocked to learn that her grandmother had found out about indiscretions she had recorded on her Facebook profile. The student made references to weed smoking in her profile, which was viewed by a family friend, and word eventually got back to her grandmother at her retirement home in Florida. This incident prompted Brandeis administrators to organize a seminar on Facebook etiquette, where students were warned that potential employers could screen job applicants by examining their Facebook profiles.

Finally, just last month at Duquesne University in Pennsylvania, a student was reprimanded for creating a Facebook group that promoted hate homophobia. His group, the Anti-Gay Straight Alliance, featured a posting that referred to homosexuals as “subhuman.”

Now, having listed a slew of horrendous Facebook incidents in typical scare-tactic fashion, I’d like to clarify the argument I’m trying to make. As long as you refrain from posting anything harassing, illegal, offensive, or hate-inspiring in your Facebook profile, you won’t have to worry about any of these incidents happening to you. However, all of these incidents highlight something you need to keep in mind in your Facebook forays—namely, the fact that whatever you put up on your profile is on display for everyone to see. Although the system gives the illusion of privacy with passwords and other screening options, it is essentially a public domain and can be accessed by anyone in the university, faculty and administration included. I see my profile as a sanctuary in which I should be able to freely express myself and celebrate my sexually-suggestive pics, random movie quotes, and drunken escapades in all their glory. I bristle at the notion of having to clean up my profile on the off-chance something I post could one day come back to haunt me. But ultimately, that is a potential hazard we all face.

So keep in mind that even though your Facebook profile gives you the opportunity to express who you are without restrictions, you might want to think twice before you post that picture of you smoking a fat cone or list “passing out on people’s lawns” as an interest. You don’t know who might be looking at your profile next.

—With files from wired.com, columbianmissourian.com, digitalduke.duq.edu, technicianonline.com, brownsdailyherald.com

More Facebook woes:

•According to Maneater, the student newspaper at University of Missouri, there are reports of employers using Facebook as a tool during background checks of students. Linda Kaiser, director of Career and Program Services at the university, said she knew of two cases in which employers denied employment to students because of Facebook profiles.

•The Columbian Missourian, another student newspaper at the University of Missouri, reports that University of New Mexico banned the service entirely on its networks to
protect its students until certain issues of privacy could be addressed.

—Compiled by Zach Slootsky

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