Monday, August 07, 2006

Facebook Discussion

Facebook and Other Social-Networking Sites Raise Questions for Administrators
By BROCK READ AND JEFFREY R. YOUNG

Campus officials can be forgiven for being a bit weary of Facebook: The social-networking Web site, beloved by students, keeps managing to bring attention - often unwanted - to its collegiate clientele.

In May, for example, officials of Northwestern University advised student athletes to stay off the site in the wake of a hazing scandal that erupted after a student posted incriminating photos online.

Facebook has also piqued the interest of lawmakers, many of whom have fretted that such social-networking sites pose a danger to children because of predators who misuse the personal information there. Twice this summer, Facebook's chief security officer has appeared on Capitol Hill to defend the site's policies on privacy and security.

The attention that Facebook has generated has given college administrators plenty of incentive to consider whether their institutions should issue warnings about the site.

Excerpts from discussion...
Mercyhurst has encouraged faculty and staff members to post their own Facebook profiles, and has created a brochure that teaches students about Facebook safety and "cybercivility."
... athletics director at Kent State University, which made news recently when it told student athletes not to post on Facebook... Purdue has trained police officers to handle incidents of harassment and cyberstalking on Facebook...Cornell University has created a Web site that contains a message to students warning them (among other things) that comments and photos posted to Facebook may end up in Google's online cache even after the material is deleted.

Excerpts from the conversation:
Have you noticed potential employers peeking at students' profiles? Students harassing each other?
... One of my students worked as a summer intern, and her job was to check out Facebook profiles of potential employees and rank them from 1 to 10.... a bunch of employers at their institution's job fair paid a student to print profiles of all interviewees... a woman committed [to the college's program], went on Facebook to check out her teammates, and then decided to go to another university.

And more... freshmen looking up their assigned roommate before arriving and calling to get a new roommate before they've moved in... students ... do not seem to be concerned about their image or about creating a positive image of themselves.... Students tend to exaggerate or embellish aspects of themselves that they believe enhance their image among their peers. We've long seen students dramatically exaggerate their alcohol use.

Facebook officials are quick to point out that the site has privacy settings that let students restrict who sees their profiles. Do students seem to be aware of those settings? If so, do they use them? ... Sure they do. But there are any number of ways that someone's profile can be exposed even with restricted privacy settings.... . But what is the point of being on Facebook if you restrict your profile? The conveniences that Facebook offers outweigh, in their minds, any threat or danger... I remember one student saying that the site was like her "online journal."... I get the distinction in the magnitude and quality of the viewers, but there's something age-old about teenagers wanting to have a world secluded from adults...

I think "policing Facebook" is taking an institution into uncharted territory.