Thursday, November 8, 2007


Facebook dangers discussed
Natalie Morrison

UA (University of Arkansas) staff, faculty and students covered various concerns and opinions about the popular peer networking Web site Facebook, including its potential legal, professional and personal safety impacts, and sought feedback from the audience at the Reynolds Center Auditorium. was started in 2004 by two sophomores at Harvard University. Originally intended to be a social network for college students it has become the seventh most trafficked site on the Internet with more than 5 billion page views during the month of February.

Danny Pugh, dean of students, spoke as part of the panel and said Facebook is a great social tool. "I would have loved to have something like it in college," he said.

The program coordinator for the event, Christianne Medrano, who works for Student Involvement and Leadership, said Facebook is part of the "millennial generation" and is a good way to connect with other students effectively.

"I think that the Facebook is a fabulous tool for students to use," Medrano said. "However, students need to use this tool wisely with the information they choose to add to their profiles."

Another panelist was Shauna Sterling, director of pre-college programs. Sterling said Facebook was designed for students to meet one another, but has drawn the attention from college authority figures as well.

"Students began to spend an incredible amount of time on Facebook because it was so new," said Sterling. "Institutions began to spend more time paying attention to what our students were spending time on."

"Quite frankly, we as adults have invaded their fun space," Sterling said. At this point, Sterling said, students should just "be safe because people are looking at your profiles."

Sterling said students should be aware that it isn't just people who care about themthat are viewing their profiles, but "everyone else in the world who may not have your best interests in mind."

UAPD officer Michael Oakes said he was shocked at the amount of personal data being supplied on Facebook.

"I was astounded when I saw people's spring break plans posted," he said.

Oakes said students should be aware that if they post something as personal as a phone number, it is possible that predators could use such information to find their home address.

Demetrius Richmond, one of the group's facilitators who works for Student Support Services, asked Oakes how likely it was that such a thing could happen at the UA.

Oakes said that Northwest Arkansas is one of the fastest growing areas in the nation and with that growth comes a great possibility that predators will come to prey on the expanding population.

"Just be very cautious and be aware that people are looking at your information and are not necessarily people from high school," Oakes said.

Another aspect of Facebook discussed by the panel was the possibility of the site being offensive. Richmond read a list of Facebook "groups" that could be considered inappropriate because of their vulgarity and obscenity.

Sterling gave another example of a Facebook group taken too far. She said there was a group that ridiculed a professor and crossed the line into cruelty.

The agreement reached the panel and the students present was that such uses of the Web site were extreme and unnecessary.

Barbara Batson, director of the Career Development Center, said students need to be careful about putting things on the Web site casually.

"I've heard people say you can put anything on Facebook and it doesn't have to be real," Batson said. "But when many people read it, they are going to assume it is true."

Medrano said that in addition to being careful, students should not take Facebook too seriously but just have fun with it.

"There are degrees of perception with Facebook," Medrano said. "Some people really put their whole life in perspective through it. If they go through a breakup, the first thing they do is take the 'in a relationship' tag off their profile."

The panel's main point was to remind students to be as careful as possible on Facebook.

"Remember that this is information on the World Wide Web," said Medrano, "which means that at any point it can be accessed by anyone, including potential graduate schools, employers and not so nice people."

Pugh said he does not want students to think that the administration or other authorities are monitoring Facebook as a way to get students in trouble, but that they just want students to be cautious.

"We're here because we truly care about the students at the UA and there are people out there who would use Facebook maliciously," said Pugh. "I want students to use Facebook, just use it safely. I think it is a great tool and gives students a great ability to connect."
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Security Awareness
IT Services

Learn how to protect yourself when meeting people online.
Finding and making friends online using social networking Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook has almost become a rite of passage. Students at universities around the world chronicle their lives by building online profiles and sharing personal information, photographs, and opinions in order to connect with new people. If you use one of these sites to stay in touch, to express yourself openly, and to find like-minded people, that’s great. Just be sure you stay smart and safe in the process.

This includes knowing what Facebook and other social networking sites intend to do with your profiles. In September 2007, Facebook announced that profiles will become searchable through its new Public Search Listings. If you have a profile posted on Facebook, and don’t want your name and profile picture indexed by one of the major search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN Search, you need to update your Facebook privacy settings immediately. While Facebook has some restrictions on the Public Search Listing of a profile, few people posted their information on Facebook thinking it would be made available to virtually anyone with an Internet connection. You need to take action to prevent this from happening.

You should consider some other important things as well. First, while you can meet new friends online, you may also come into contact with malicious people misrepresenting themselves. These are people you don’t want to know. Internet thieves and sexual predators are only too eager to exploit personal information found on social networking sites. They are out there and willing to hurt you unless you take precautions to protect yourself.

A second consideration, frequently overlooked, is that information you post on a social networking site may reveal indiscretions and worse to future employers, college professors, or even your parents. It’s on the record that students have been suspended and expelled for escapades and threats posted online. In some instances, potential job offers have been withdrawn because of information posted on a social networking site. Keep these things in mind when taking advantage of the pluses of social networking.

You can follow these tips to help you protect yourself on a social networking Web site:

Consider restricting access to your profile. If the site allows it, it’s a good idea to limit access to your profile. Don’t allow strangers to learn everything they can about you. It’s just not safe.
Keep your private information private. Never post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number, financial information, or schedule. These will make you vulnerable to identity thieves, scams, burglars, or worse.

Choose a screen name that is different from your real name. Avoid using any personal information that would help someone identify or locate you offline.
Think twice before posting your photo. Photos can be used to identify you offline. They can also be altered or shared without your knowledge.

Don’t post information that makes you vulnerable to a physical attack. Revealing where you plan to meet your friends, your class schedule, or your street address is almost an open invitation for someone to find you. Remember that a photo in front of the Co-op tells strangers you are in Austin, and quite likely at the university.

Use your common sense. If you are contacted by a stranger online, find out if any of your established friends know the person, or run an online search on them (after all, you can use these things to your own benefit too!). If you agree to meet them, make it in a public place and invite others to join you.

Trust your instincts. If you feel threatened or uncomfortable during an online interaction, don’t continue the dialogue. Report any offensive behavior to the social networking Web site administrators.

Be suspicious. Don’t take any information you receive from a new online contact at face value. The Internet makes it easy for people to say or do things they would never say or do in public or in face-to-face interactions. Protecting yourself is the smart thing to do.

Those Party Pictures Can Come Back to Haunt You
While one of the fun things about the Internet is sharing photos and messages with friends, keep in mind that the Internet is also a public resource. Only post information you are comfortable with anyone seeing—including your parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, even potential employers. It’s not uncommon for companies to run an Internet search of job applicants before they offer them a position. Stories are increasing about people being “weeded out” from a job search due to compromising or ill-advised photos and information found on the Web. Even if you remove photos or information, they can still exist in archive caches or on another person’s computer. Once you post something, it truly is out of your hands.