Online communities pose offline problems

Joshua T. Bell

Joshua T. Bell

Imagine losing a job or getting written up in the dorms, all because of some pictures posted on a Web site. For users of the popular social networking site Facebook, these situations could become a reality.

Today, almost four years after its creation, Facebook catches the attention of more than just students. Students and employers alike can look at the social utility as a means of information exchange.

Facebook provides many services that were once only there for students. Parents, employers and anyone else can now find their place on Facebook. With more than 100 million users logged in, Facebook is more than just a social network. The site calls itself a social utility. With applications, groups, notifications and the wall, Facebook continues to outdo the regular social network.

Greg Heiberger, the coordinator and adviser for Pre-Health Professionals, spoke to students on Sept. 18 about the good and the bad side of the unique networking tool. He showed the students how Facebook is perceived by the world outside campus from its use as a procrastination tool, to its role in the loss of a job opportunity, to a place that can enhance a user’s involvement in their community.

Troy Alfonso, assistant director for conference and special services, spoke about how the campus itself is using Facebook to keep connected from within.

He said, “Residence halls and hall governments have been using Facebook for hall government and floor meetings. Residential Life uses Facebook to hire employees.”

Other campus University Police Departments have a designated “Facebook Squad” to check the accounts of students to check for wrongdoings.

Heiberger said, “Although there is no official Facebook monitors on campus [at SDSU], the information and images a student presents on the Web site may be used as evidence for student code violations.”

With Facebook’s privacy options and the ability to “only add your friends,” many people have a false sense of security. Actually, Facebook keeps a record of all the information a person presents on Facebook, even if that person takes it down. The Terms and Conditions on the site specifically states, “If you choose to remove your User Content. … [Y]ou acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.”

Another feature of Facebook that can have positive or negative effects for students is the ability to add third-party applications, said Heiberger. Any student on Facebook will come into contact with an application now and then, and some students get sent an invite to a new application every day.

“These applications are what make this more than simply another Web site,” said Heiberger.

Some applications such as “Earn for Breast Cancer” or “(Lil) Green Patch,” which helps six million Facebook users get involved with global warming, keep students involved with the world around them. Other applications such as “Red Rover” “[make] college better by connecting you to real people, groups and opportunities at your school,” according to their Facebook application page.

“These application touches add to a person’s identity in a positive way. Companies want people who are active in the community,” said Heiberger.

Overall, Heiberger urged students to know what they place online, which applies not only to Facebook, but for most social networking sites. Heiberger said, “Users cannot control what Facebook or your friends do with their information.”

In the end, a person never knows who is watching them.