Universities monitor Facebook posts, photos

By Sarah J. Augustinas

Universities across America have found a new way to identify university code violators using only a computer and time.

The online “social network” known as www.facebook.com, which was founded by three Brown College students in 2004, has fallen into a pocket of political controversy.

Monitoring Facebook

Several colleges and universities have begun to monitor the Web site, which allows students to post personal information and pictures on a profile. Some students have posted images or statements which implied their involvement in illegal activities.

Students cited the First Amendment right of free speech and the right to privacy as reason for fighting the judicial panels’ actions.

“I was surprised because I was not aware that the First Amendment was limited; that [the university] is able to restrict my right, especially on Facebook, which is a separate entity,” said Ryan Miner, a Duquesne University sophomore, in an article published by the Duquesne Duke.

Miner was punished by the university for posting a comment perceived to be homophobic and ordered to write a 10-page essay, which he refused to do.

“Assuming they are being punished for the conduct itself, then I don’t see a First Amendment problem,” said Mark Cordes, an NIU law professor.

Cordes said if an illegal activity has occurred, proper action may be taken.

“If someone conducted illegal activities and wrote a newspaper article about it, you would expect them to be punished,” Cordes said.

Problems at other universities

Additional posts and pictures have led to investigations going so far as to include the Secret Service.

Secret Service agents came to a University of Oklahoma freshman’s residence hall March 1 in response to a post which suggested the university’s president be replaced with a fish.

“I think we should replace him with your pet fish,” the post said. “Or, we could all donate a dollar and raise millions of dollars to hire an assassin to kill the president and replace him with a monkey.”

The agents proceeded to ask questions which pertained to the student’s medical and criminal history, as well as to ask if he was “obsessed with assassination,” according to the Cavalier Daily, the University of Oklahoma campus newspaper.

The University of New Mexico has banned Facebook from campus computers and networks, citing security as its primary reason.

Additionally, four students from the University of Northern Kentucky received notifications of violations for posts of pictures showing minors consuming alcohol.

Facebook not leaving NIU

Students were split on how heavily NIU should monitor Facebook.

“I think that it’s the university’s prerogative to decide what to do with those kind of pictures; you’re putting them out there,” said Sarah Roman, a sophomore political science major.

Grace Rybicki, a junior nursing major, disagreed.

“I think it’s a bad thing,” Rybicki said. “We’re paying to go to school there and I don’t think they have a right to invade our privacy.”

Cordes believes universities issuing violations pertaining to activities found on the Web is in poor taste.

“Even if there’s not a constitutional issue, I think it’s pretty poor conduct for universities to be going around trying to dig up illegal activity in that way,” Cordes said. “It doesn’t show a lot of respect for the students.”

Regardless of public opinion, NIU students have no reason to worry about their Facebook profiles, said Larry Bolles, the director of Judicial Affairs.

“I don’t go around looking at Facebook every day; sheer numbers alone make it impossible,” Bolles said. “I know some universities are looking into doing that, but the number of students [on Facebook] is incredible.”