Facebook not just for students

University professors and administrators access the online social network

Computer sciences professor Robin Dawes has an account on Facebook that he uses to respond to friend invitations.
Computer sciences professor Robin Dawes has an account on Facebook that he uses to respond to friend invitations.
Journal File Photo

Vice-Principal (Advancement) George Hood has a Facebook account. So does Associate Dean of Student Affairs Roxy Denniston-Stewart, Campus Security Technical Co-ordinator Steve Gill, and numerous professors.

With recent changes in the privacy levels of Facebook—before only those with a valid school e-mail address could make a profile, now anyone and everyone is welcome—students began to worry that the privacy they associated with Facebook would be eliminated.

What many students don’t realize, however, is that non-students have had access to Facebook for a long time.

Because anyone with a school email address can sign up for a profile, university faculty and staff members are eligible to participate on the website.

James MacMillan, AMS president, said he knows members of the administration have Facebook accounts, which they used to find out about parties at the end of the last school year.

“They heard about a group formed about parties, going on in University houses, and went and talked to students,” he said. That was the only specific incident he was aware of in which administration used Facebook to check up on student behaviour.

Roxy Denniston-Stewart, associate dean (student affairs), said she got a Facebook account in fall 2005.

“I’d heard so much about it, I wanted to try and understand it,” she said. “The only way I really felt I could do that was to sign on and read some of the profiles and look at how it’s being used.” Denniston-Stewart said she has received requests of friendship from students she knows or has worked with, but declined them.

“It’s not something personally that I feel comfortable doing,” she said.

She said she was not aware of Facebook being used on campus to monitor student behaviour, but added that it wasn’t impossible.

She said students need to be more aware of what they post on the Internet.

“If the information is there … I think the user has to anticipate that it might be used in different ways.”

George Hood, vice-principal (advancement), also has a Facebook profile. Like Denniston-Stewart, he has not modified it with any information about himself beyond his email address.

Hood said he did not set up the account, however.

“I have no knowledge of that,” he said when asked about the profile. “I think it was my kids. From time to time they use my computer at home.” Jason Laker, vice-principal (student affairs), said he wasn’t aware of any members of the administration who have Facebook accounts but said he had no problem with the idea of using Facebook to check up on student behaviour.

“If I become aware of something, regardless of how I become aware, if I’m worried about people’s safety, I’m going to do something about it,” he said.

He said that because Facebook is easily accessible, students need to be cautious of what they post on their profiles.

“It relates to: what is it about Facebook that makes it interesting to people looking for evidence of trouble?” Laker said. “[Students] post personal information there that could be dangerous, or pictures that could be damaging. They have some perception that it could be private.

“If someone’s using Facebook to organize or promote illegal behaviour, then they have no reason to complain about the police catching them,” he said. “Just because it’s behind a password, doesn’t mean you can’t get it.” Steve Gill, Campus Security technical co-ordinator, has a Facebook profile, but said he doesn’t use it in a Campus Security capacity.

“There’s no professional reason to have it,” he said. “It’s a social network, so a lot of people have profiles there … I don’t go on every day or anything like that.” Dave Patterson, Campus Security director, said Campus Security does not officially monitor the content of Facebook, but that if information posted on Facebook is brought to their attention, they might be obligated to follow up on it.

“If there’s any information that would be brought forth, we would have an obligation to follow up or pass it to the police if there’s a concern for personal safety,” he said.

“We do have quite a few students within our department so they may have their own personal accounts, and they may mention [something they see there],” he said. “Those do not in any way have any affiliation with our department.” He emphasized that Facebook is not a private network.

“It’s a public forum and people should kind of treat it as such,” Patterson said.

Staff-Sergeant Chris Scott of the Kingston Police said the Police have used various Internet sources to get information in the past, although he would not name any websites.

“I won’t speak to the specifics, but we do use the web as a source of information,” he said.

He said the Police force does not have a Qlink account, which is necessary to get a Facebook account in the Queen’s University network.

There are also some members of the faculty who use Facebook, some with extensive profiles through which they interact with past and current students.

James Miller, a religions professor, used his Queen’s email address to get a Facebook profile in early 2006 in order to get to know his students better.

“I’d like to have greater interaction with students, and at the time I was teaching a big first-year class, and so I thought this would be a good way to try and get to know some of the students better and break down some of the anonymities,” Miller said.

He said the photographs are the most important part of Facebook, because they make it easier for him to know who the students are.

“I like Facebook because students can choose which information they share,” he said. “And it helps to get to know students a little bit in a non-academic way. I think that’s important for the overall educational process.

“I’m concerned, in my classes, to try and humanize the process as much as possible … It’s not just me standing up there giving information to people,” he said. “It’s a human experience for all of the people in the class.” Miller said he logs on to Facebook every day.

“Usually I check to see who has added one of my classes in their class list,” he said. “Not everybody does this of course, but for those who do this it helps with a big class.”

Miller added that students who feel uncomfortable having professors look up their profiles on Facebook are free to limit their access.

“If you don’t want faculty or staff to have access to your profile, you can very easily prevent it,” he said. “Facebook doesn’t hide what it does.” Miller said that students need to realize that Facebook is not as private as they assume it is.

“I would say that the responsibility is with students,” he said. “They should realize that the stuff they post on the Internet or send in emails is not private.” In class last year, he demonstrated this by reading aloud from some students’ Facebook profiles.

“I just read off information that was publicly available about them … just one piece of personal information about the students,” he said. “People were surprised, and perhaps it was a good thing, at least for them.”

Miller said that on the first day of classes this year he announced to his students that he had a Facebook account.

“I told everybody at the start,” he said. “I think this is important because students can choose to make themselves visible or invisible.”

Vlada Bilyak, ArtSci ’10, is in Miller’s RELS161 course this year. She said she finds the idea of professors using Facebook a bit weird.

“I thought it was kind of eccentric, and, I guess, cool,” she said in response to hearing her professor used Facebook. “I personally didn’t add him [as a friend].” Bilyak said she thinks a lot of students regard Facebook as being more private than it really is.

“I think that students kind of view Facebook as a safe haven,” she said. “If it’s being used for some kind of other motive… I don’t think it should be used that way.” “People act different ways in public and how they are online, in their own little profile,” she said. “It’s really important, I think, to keep those two selves separate.”

She said that if faculty or administration look at students’ profiles they need to keep this in mind.

“The people they see on Facebook aren’t necessarily the people that they meet in class or on campus.” Tanya Kumar, ArtSci ’07, said she understands that faculty and staff at the University have access to what students post on Facebook.

“Most students I know would say they don’t want professors to use it,” she said. “There’s no way to stop professors, but there should be certain rules on their side … to prevent them from putting restrictions on students.” However, Kumar said students also need to be more cautious about what they post on Facebook.

“The students have to realize everyone has a right to see it,” she said. “It would be great to have a student-only network, but it’s not possible. The individual needs to do their best to make sure they’re not in danger.” Robin Dawes, a computer sciences professor, created a Facebook profile this summer after hearing students talk about Facebook. His immediate reaction was concern, he said.

He browsed around the site and became worried about the content of many of the photographs and comments he saw posted in profiles.

“People post comments on various walls and so on using language which I suspect they might think twice about using if they thought that people outside their immediate circle were going to see this,” he said, citing Facebook’s recent expansion to make it possible for anybody, student or not, to join the Facebook network.

Dawes said he only signs into Facebook when he receives a friend invitation from a student. “I don’t really use it for any kind of communication purpose,” he said.

He said he doesn’t have a problem with members of the administration using Facebook to monitor students or events “People participate in Facebook voluntarily,” he said. “All of the information that people have on Facebook, pictures of themselves and events that they participate in and so on, that’s something that they have chosen to put into that form.

“Just as I think that an employer is justified in taking any legal means to gain information about a potential employee, I think the University administration is certainly on ethical solid ground accessing information which has been put in a public forum.”

Dawes said he worries about Facebook’s archiving practices.

“If I go on and delete my account then it’s gone from the surface, but I’m confident that it’s still there,” he said.

“I may be cynical and pessimistic but I’m distrustful of what will happen with this data. The old saying is “the truth will out,” and in the information age, anything that is stored will eventually be distributed.”

-- With files from Anna Mehler Papern

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.