Other campus: Wrong citations (Duke)

By The Chronicle

(U-WIRE) DURHAM, N.C. – Officials at North Carolina State University recently used photographs on the popular website facebook.com to cite nine students for underage drinking. A resident advisor found photos of suspicious behavior on the Web site and reported the nine students Oct. 26. The students will face disciplinary action, which could include probation or assignment to an alcohol education class.

Administrators at N.C. State defend the actions taken by the resident advisor, saying she was just doing her job by reporting suspected transgressions of the university’s policies. Utilizing facebook.com as a surveillance tool is abusive and would create a “Big Brother” police-state climate.

Granted, the use of facebook.com to detect violations of university policies is legal. But, just because it can be done does not mean it should be done.

Some may argue that if students do not want to be punished for underage drinking, then they should not post photos of themselves engaging in the act. Photos are often posted, however, without the consent of the people in the image. With the ubiquity of camera phones and digital cameras these days, a student can quickly snap a photo of a bacchanalian Friday night party and post it without anyone’s consent the next day on facebook.com.

Ultimately, this issue highlights the broader question of public and private spaces on the Internet.

If the University were to use facebook.com to detect low-severity violations, such as underage drinking, then it would have a chilling effect on facebook.com’s purpose of serving as an online networking forum. It would not reduce the number of students imbibing under age 21; it would just reduce the number of photos posted online.

With a low-level “everyone does it” violation such as underage drinking, the severity of the offense does not justify the use of privacy and trust-violating methods of obtaining evidence.

Staff Editorial

The Chronicle (Duke)