Facebook, MySpace dangerous place to play



May 03, 2006

Students spend much of their time on Facebook perusing classmates' profiles, reading messages and connecting with people across the country from elementary and high school. While this online forum has many benefits, students and faculty should be aware of the dangers it brings as well.

Facebook and MySpace are two social networking Web sites that have become the latest online craze in a matter of years. Three Harvard students created Facebook in the fall 2004. Since then, Facebook has spread from Harvard's campus to colleges, universities, junior colleges and high schools in the U.S. and Canada and now boasts of more than 4 million members.

Just because a member has to have a school e-mail address to have a profile doesn't mean the Web site is safe.

Students post their classes, cell phone numbers, instant messenger screennames, birthdays, hometowns, and other information_-_all so they can connect with others across the country. Many students also post crude comments, pictures from recent parties and too much information about themselves about what they do when not in school.

Facebook is not a private venture, so anything that is posted online can and probably will be held against you somewhere down the line.

Many companies and graduate schools regularly search the Internet for information about potential employees and applicants. This could mean you, if you want to do anything after college. Don't let what you post online in fun hurt your future.

And don't let it hurt you now. Although this is not the case on this campus, many universities' officials search Facebook for student involvement in illegal activity or for violations of their student guide books.

Dr. Wayne Barnard, dean of Campus Life, said students need to be informed about the dangers they face delving into the online social network. He also said new policies might be created beginning next fall to deal with how students represent themselves online. Jeopordizing one's future is only one part of the danger Facebook and MySpace bring. Another aspect is when students post too much information and have to deal with stalkers.

George Saltsman, director of education technology for the Adams Center of Teching Excellence, said the ACU Police Department deals with several stalking-type incidents each year. He warned that students who disclose too much information about themselves subject themselves to the risk of being followed or found by people they might not want following them. He also said MySpace has become a popular hangout for online pedhophiles and others with questionable intentions. Be careful who you befriend online, and think twice before meeting anyone in person who you first met online.

Saltsman said the most important thing students can do to protect themselves is to think. Think about what you post online because you can't ever take it back. Friends, family, employers, faculty and staff all review student's profiles and blog postings. Facebook is like posting your everyday conversations online. How many people do you want listening in on everything you say?

Students have a big responsibility to watch what they say and do online, but faculty also share this responsibility.

Faculty should learn what Facebook is. Most students are part of this network, and many are on www.Facebook.com during your classes. Facebook is a double-edged sword, and faculty need to be aware of its downsides and benefits. Understand that this online phenomenon will not go away any time soon. Learn how to become a member and befriend your students. Help students realize that what they post could hurt them.

Facebook was never intended to be a self-incriminating Web site – but a networking system for students and faculty.           

Have fun with it, use it for what it's intended, but know that anything you post on the Internet can be seen by anyone, so  when in doubt, save your pictures and conversations for a quiet gathering among friends rather than the open forum of the Web.

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