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ISSUE 119 VOL 4 PUBLISHED 10/7/2005

Website raises concern

By Emelie Heltsley
Staff Writer

Friday, October 7, 2005

The national college craze "Facebook," a website that allows students to network within their own college and among other colleges, has received much acclaim from students who have used the website to find long-lost friends or gather information about classmates.

St. Olaf faculty members, however, have expressed some concern regarding the kind of personal information students display on their profiles and the further concern of identity theft and stalking.

"The amount of things I can find out about you is staggering," Pamela McDowell, Director of Residence Life, said.

Dean of Students Greg Kneser shares McDowell's concerns about information that students share on Facebook.

He mentioned the positive sides of Facebook, such as the ability to meet new people and keep old relationships alive.

"But like anything, it has a downside," he said. "Students put their information out there without considering that people may not have the best intentions."

Facebook allows students to display home addresses, phone numbers, residence hall room numbers, class schedules and lists of friends, as well as interests, quotes, hobbies, clubs, a message board and groups involved in while on campus.

Both McDowell and Kneser brought up the issue of stalking, a concern from which St. Olaf is not exempt.

"We deal with real instances of stalking," Kneser said. "It has happened here as well."

McDowell mentioned a slight inconsistency in student behavior. Some students remove their picture and other information from the St. Olaf directory, a service that is only available to computers hooked up to the St. Olaf network, to protect their privacy.

At the same time, however, they put pictures, phone numbers and addresses on Facebook, an internationally-available service.

She said that students are genuinely worried about identity theft and privacy, but place valuable and telling information out into the public sphere.

"When people are so worried about identity theft, it is dangerous and surprising that [students put] so much information in one place," McDowell said.

Kneser addressed the concern that some faculty members have Facebook profiles and use them to "follow" students.

"People shouldn't be worried about me," Kneser said, urging students to protect themselves and their privacy when choosing what to include in a Facebook profile. "Don't put stuff out there that you don't want every student on campus to see."

McDowell addressed the concern that area coordinators and other residence life staff "search out" parties on Facebook.

"I don't go on it and search for parties," McDowell said. "I don't do that, and I guarantee I will not make [any staff on weekend duty] check it on the weekends."

McDowell joined the website as part of a conference she attended that discussed Facebook.

Kneser joined as well, but because he is "absolutely fascinated" by the website and finds that it helps him to understand and respect the life St. Olaf students lead.

"I will use every tool to help me understand students and to help them positively," he said.

Kneser cited several crisis situations when Facebook proved a useful tool to find friends and other contacts.

Facebook is able to connect students, but it can also drive them apart as well.

McDowell referenced a recent case at Minnesota State University where students received roommate assignments, then went on Facebook to find their roommates.

The residence life staff at the university received several calls from students who had complaints about roommates they had never met.

Those complaining assumed that, from their roommate's profile, they would not get along, and would request a change before meeting their roommate.

"Quotes and groups [students have in their profiles] tell who [they] are," Kneser said, cautioning students about what they put on Facebook.

In general, faculty just wants students to be careful and protect themselves during a time when identity theft is a real threat.

"You've got to watch yourself," McDowell said.

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