Facebook is fun, but be wary about who’s looking at it

By Beth Gilomen

In Champaign-Urbana, it has become socially acceptable, even invited, to “poke” each other.

The social interaction of college students has changed since the conception and spread of Facebook, an online directory that connects people through social networks at schools.

Facebook began in 2004 at Harvard and spread quickly to other universities, including Illinois.

Approximately 85 percent of students in supported colleges have a Facebook profile. According to TechCrunch, of the 3.85 million members counted in September 2005, that 60 percent log in daily.

However, with Facebook’s popularity came unforeseen intrusions into students’ privacy.

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    “I’ve definitely been Facebook stalked,” Danielle Skosky said. “This one guy (instant messaged) me and said we had the same class together, but he knew everything about me. He told me where I sit everyday in a lecture of about 200 people, what I was wearing the last time he saw me. It was really creepy.”

    Skosky said she uses the Web site primarily to stay connected with people she does not see on a regular basis. She looks at their recently added photos and sends messages. She also uses it for schoolwork.

    “If I miss class and need to get notes, or a handout, I can search for people in the same class and message them,” Skosky said. “Nobody minds getting those kind of messages, if you don’t want to help you just ignore it. But some people cross the line when it comes to monitoring people online.”

    Students are not the only one’s using the Internet to monitor others’ activities.

    Articles have appeared in the Stanford Daily and the Yale Daily News about the recent development of potential employers, school officials, and in some cases police investigators using online profiles like Myspace and Facebook to check up on people.

    Skosky said she felt that use of the Web site by non-students is manipulative and uncalled for.

    Teaching assistant for an introductory journalism class at the University, Tom Rund-Scott, felt differently.

    Rund-Scott began using Facebook in Spring ’06 to check the credibility of his students.

    Students are not to interview friends, and Rund-Scott used Facebook to ensure they weren’t.

    Out of 19 students, 10 had used close friends as sources.

    “Coming into class for the first time after the students found out I had checked on them, the feeling could best be described as cold,” Rund-Scott said.

    He said he was apprehensive about using the Internet in such a manner, but felt confident his students would not make the same mistake.

    Bloom said it’s important for students to remember that Facebook gives people the capacity to delve into others’ lives, but they can only see what you choose to divulge.

    “It can be an amazing tool if you use it for the right purposes,” Bloom said. “People just have to be careful and think a little before they assume only their friends will see what they post. Facebook can be real trouble.”

    Missed the boat and don’t have a Facebook profile yet? Visit www.facebook.com and use your UIUC e-mail to set one up.