[March 29, 2006]

Officials at institutions nationwide using Facebook site

(Comtex Community Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)SOUTH BEND, Ind., Mar 29, 2006 (The Observer, U-WIRE via COMTEX) --Facebook.com, the online social network and cultural phenomenon availed by millions of college students across America, is spreading to reach an even broader audience -- nearly anybody with a ".edu" e-mail address.


And that shift is beginning to have repercussions for students.

Since February 2004, the popular Web site has garnered more than six million members, a majority of which log on at least once a day, a spokesman told the Chicago Sun Times in November. Each day, between 10,000 and 20,000 new members register on Facebook.com.

And that's not the half of it -- the average Facebook user logs on six times per day, another Web site spokesman told the New York Times in January.

Facebook's magnetism has drawn its largest following from students, who register with school e-mail addresses to set up personal pages on which they can post photo albums, class schedules and personal information such as political affiliation and sexual orientation. The site's users can also send private messages, join groups and inscribe memos on another user's "Wall" -- an interactive and ongoing personal message board.

Students often feel comfortable posting questionable photographs or including candid information on their Facebook profiles because a user's page can usually only be accessed by a "Friend" or schoolmate. Additionally, all Facebook users must have valid ".edu" e-mail addresses.

But students are not the only people with such addresses. University administrators, professors, police officers, coaches and alumni can also have college e-mail accounts and non-students have begun to use Facebook as an investigative tool at campuses across the country.

The issue has become so rampant that the interactive online encyclopedia Wikipedia now features the topic, "Facebook's use in investigations." College administrators have begun to warn students to remove "inappropriate" material, as employers might search their profiles. Coaches worry the Web site might cause trouble for student-athletes bound by a stringent NCAA code of conduct.

The Hanover Police Department in New Hampshire admittedly uses Facebook as a tool for tracking down suspected student lawbreakers at Dartmouth College, according to a Feb. 3, 2006 article in the school's student newspaper, The Dartmouth. Police Chief Nicholas Giaccone said the department "maintain[s] a collection of Facebook [accounts]" -- which were created after police bought a number of e-mail addresses from the College for that specific purpose.

According to its Terms of Use, the Facebook is available for "personal, noncommercial use only." But unless users implement the necessary privacy settings in their profiles, information published on Web site is public -- a scary thought for students who wish to keep the Facebook world at a safe distance from the real world.

Alcoholics not-so-anonymous

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an "overwhelming majority" of all college students -- 88 percent -- have used alcohol. Not surprisingly, the pervasiveness of the habit is often chronicled in the Facebook profiles of underage and of-age drinkers alike.

Students have recently faced disciplinary action for alcohol violations at some universities not for possession of a substance or intoxication, but rather for incriminating Wall posts, group affiliations or published photos.

Fifteen North Carolina State University students were charged with alcohol offenses last fall because of pictures posted on Facebook profiles, according to an Oct. 29, 2005 article in the school's student newspaper, The Daily Technician. That November, four students at Northern Kentucky University -- a dry campus -- received $50 fines for posting photos that showed students drinking from a keg at a dorm party.

Students' unseen acts of misconduct have also been punished by campus administrators. In October, the Berry College campus police broke up a freshman party on campus after a student jokingly sent the chief of police an invitation through Facebook.

In November, Emory University officials slapped members of the Facebook group "Dobbs 2nd Alcoholics" -- named for the second floor of a campus residence hall -- with conduct code violations. A similar drinking group, "Woodruff=Wasted," was also investigated. In a Nov. 22, 2005 article in the Emory Wheel, the group's creator said members only discussed "having fun in Woodruff" and said no photos of students drinking were ever posted on Facebook.

Other offenses

In February, four Syracuse University students were forced to meet with a judicial committee and placed on disciplinary probation for creating the Facebook group, "Clearly [instructor's first name] doesn't know what she's doing ever." Members personally denigrated the professor through a series of posts on the Web site.

One student at Fisher College in Boston was expelled from the school in October after he used Facebook to criticize a campus security officer who "loves to antagonize students ... and needs to be eliminated." Dean Bonie Bacghi said in an Oct. 6, 2005 Boston Globe article that the student "conspired to and damaged the reputation" of the officer.

Facebook criticisms of prominent individuals are not limited to the college sphere. The Secret Service questioned one University of Oklahoma student after he posted a Facebook comment about assassinating President George W. Bush in March 2005.

In October, a Duquesne University student was ordered to write a 10-page essay about homosexuality in the Catholic Church after material on his Facebook user profile was deemed homophobic by university officials. On the otherhand, a gay student at John Brown University -- a private, Christian college in Arkansas -- was kicked out of school in January because he posted pictures on Facebook in which he was dressed in drag.

Permeating nearly every facet of campus life, Facebook has also affected university athletics. In October 2005, Penn State University police officers used the Web site to trace the students who rushed the field after the Nittany Lions defeated Ohio State in an Oct. 8 game. Two members of the Facebook group "I Rushed the Field After the OSU Game (And Lived!)" were charged with criminal trespassing.

Athletes themselves -- not just their overzealous fans -- are also facing severe consequences because of Facebook. Athletics officials at Florida State University and the University of Kentucky recently admonished athletes against posting any questionable material on the Web site. Loyola University of Chicago forbids student-athletes to have Facebook accounts, according to a March 8, 2006 USA Today article.

In May 2005, two Louisiana State University swimmers were kicked off the team after athletics administrators discovered they belonged to a Facebook group which specifically targeted and bashed team coaches.

"Facebook is dangerous right now," one swimmer told USA Today in the March article. "You're supposed to have fun with this Facebook thing, but you need to be careful."

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