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College of Human Ecology

K-State experts say students not always putting best face forward of Facebook

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

MANHATTAN -- Getting "poked" is a sign of friendliness, and the Flip-Flop Alliance is a legitimate organization at Kansas State University -- at least in the world of Facebook, a yearbook for the Internet age at http://www.facebook.com

Facebook communities have sprung up at K-State and campuses across the country.

Facebook allows students to connect with one another for reasons as varied as tracking down Wildcat football tickets, selling used anthropology books or finding a weekend party.

But some K-State faculty members say students' Facebook content could come back to haunt them. Reliving the highlights of last weekend's party may seem OK in the here and now, but imagine a prospective employer reading about a candidate's record keg stand -- or worse, seeing a picture of it.

Tony Jurich, K-State professor of family studies and human service, said it's easy for Facebook users to get caught up in a groupthink mentality where a mildly outrageous content leads to a more outrageous content until -- like the childhood game "telephone" -- content reaches hyperbolic proportions. But that "feeding frenzy" is also part of what makes it appealing.

"You can participate in your own reality show, " Jurich said.

Facebook content could cause trouble in the future not only for users seeking jobs, but also for those pursuing romantic relationships or even seeking political office. But teenagers and young people aren't thinking about consequences when they use Facebook, Jurich, said. Part of that is because young people are sent the message that "kids will be kids" and some behaviors are excusable and will be forgotten in a few years, he said.

"Teenagers and adolescents think very naively they can post these things with impunity," Jurich said.

Moreover, the lack of instant, face-to-face feedback on Facebook and with similar technologies makes it hard to judge how messages and content are perceived by others. And where adults using the Internet may be able to take cues from past personal interactions, Jurich said teenagers and young adults often lack those experiences and may have a hard time judging what is and isn't appropriate to post.

Most people probably would be reluctant to stand up in the middle of their school's football stadium and admit they're prone to dropping the phone in the toilet or list getting wasted as a favorite pastime. But such revelations appear on Facebook.

Fred B. Newton, director of K-State's counseling services, said he's heard from students who find it both enticing and scary to read what information some users will post online.

"I know this has been a source of concern when roommates find they have been talked about publicly concerning what they consider to be personal matters," Newton said.

Technologies like Facebook are changing how students relate to one another, too. Although it may seem like students are connecting with one another, they're doing so through a medium rather than through face-to-face contact. And while students are connecting through the Internet or cell phones, Newton said they're disengaging themselves from the people immediately surrounding them. Newton said the phenomenon, dubbed "absent presence," has received some scholarly attention but deserves more research.

Facebook poses dangers beyond embarrassment, damaged reputation and interfered socialization, according to K-State's Mary Todd, assistant director of the university's Women's Center. Making general information like addresses, phone numbers and majors readily available on the Internet can create personal safety challenges, especially when that information is combined with details like birthdays, favorite movies and relationship status, she said.

Todd said she has worked with people who, through a Facebook precursor, had been "befriended" by people assuming anyone using the system was open to meeting with strangers.

"This is -- like any situation where people are meeting new people -- one with risks; one where charm, judgment, deception and targeting can take place," she said.

Student staff at the Women's Center offer the following safety tips for using Facebook or other online social networks:

* Don't put an address or phone number on profiles.

* Don't register an on-campus party. Have an invitation-only guest list.

* Make sure the "friend" option is set so that only people confirmed as friends can see your profile.

* Manage wall messages to keep out personal information.

* Displaying a class schedule reveals when you are and aren't at home. Don't reveal information about when you or roommates will be out of town. Use discretion about filling out summer/vacation plans.

* Realize that posting photographs makes them public property.

This article was posted on Wednesday, October 19, 2005, and is filed under College News, Family Studies & Human Services.