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ISSUE 119 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/24/2006

Separating our online selves

By Byron Vierk
Staff Writer

Friday, February 24, 2006

When I was asked to write an opinion piece on St. Olaf’s Facebook policy, I initially balked. After all, the last time I offered any flippant criticism of St. Olaf, I was given a violation that will be on my record for a year.

But, this is an article that I feel everyone has to read. Not because I feel I was personally wronged by the administration, but because I believe a separation between our private lives and our St. Olaf lives is necessary. Everything we say or do outsidethe boundaries of St. Olaf College should not be subject to scrutiny and evaluation by school officials.

This issue of the manitou Messenger reports that students, including myself, have faced punishment and sanction for statements or groups they have hosted on Facebook. While some students may agree that these comments or groups are immature, irresponsible or even offensive, it is not St. Olaf’s job to exact their own brand of justice on students simply exercising their right to free speech on an internet forum.

After all, Facebook states in its disclaimer that it is in no way affiliated with any of the colleges that appear on its website. In many ways, being punished for something one says on Facebook is like being punished for having a Long Island Iced Tea at the Rueb n’ Stein: You’re not on campus or even anywhere associated with campus, but you’re being given a Level One alcohol violation all the same.

The administrations main flaw, as I see it, lies in the outdated and unspecified guidelines set down in “The Book.” The rules and regulations that govern when and how students can be sanctioned are vague at best, especially considering that most of these rules have not changed in many years, or have only been slightly amended to suit the information age.

The challenges of control brought to the fore by the Internet are issues that St. Olaf needs to address quickly and decisively. After all, with rules so broadly applicable and vague, how far away are we from having students face Level One violations or the dreaded “present and aware” violation just for having a picture of themselves posted on Facebook having a cocktail?

As students, we have to realize that we are not powerless in determining the rules that we live by, just as citizens in any democracy are not without power to influence their government. While Facebook is my primary example here, it is not the only force driving this article.

While we are students on the hill or even working with a St. Olaf website, we are subject to and must abide by the rules set down in “The Book.” If we do not like it, tough luck.

However, being able to do and say what we please outside of St. Olaf’s warm and comforting bosom, either physically or over the internet, is the right of every person, and it is a right we should hold as dear as possible if we want to keep it.

I know that such statements seem paranoid or reactionary, but consider this: If one can be punished on Facebook, what about MySpace? What about personal blogs? Where does it end? The answer is, it ends where we say it does ... but only if we let ourselves be heard.

Byron Vierk is a senior from Lincoln, Neb. He majors in history and in religion.

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