Throw the (Face)book at them

Considering it is a university and a city built on tradition, the Oxford council and university authorities seem to be remarkably hostile to the student ritual of hurling flour, custard, and the occasional exotic sea creature at each other as they exit their final exams.

Each year, the game of cat and mouse plays out the same way: most people get away with their crimes, leaving a trail of glitter and champagne foam behind them, and a couple of unfortunates are collared by the proctors and made an example of with a hefty fine.

But this year, facebook changed the rules of the game. Students are being disciplined on the basis of shared online photos, accessed by the university from the social networking site.

Unfortunately for the Class of ’07, not just at Oxford, but everywhere, our troubles have only just begun.

This is the generation who built facebook. Slightly too old for the very public self-promotion tool of myspace, but more comfortable with the internet than their email using forebears, facebook was the perfect compromise. We could share everything from the pictures of last night’s party, to our location and moodswings, but always only within a carefully controlled system of friends and educational networks.

Or so we thought.

The data is out there now, and there is no getting it back.

Watch as the next wave of scandals involves graduate employers rather than student discipline, and as the SU presidents of today become the facebook-scandal-dogged failed politicians of tomorrow. Imagine if The Sun could get its hands on David Cameron, or Jack Straw’s old facebook profiles. I’d doubt that the most controversial group that either of them would have joined would be ‘I go out of my way to step on a leaf that is particularly crunchy’.

The next generation will be able to learn from our mistakes and be more selective about how much of their private lives they choose to post online, but our lot are left in a uniquely vulnerable position: young enough to have embraced the internet, but too green to understand at what cost.

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One thought on “Throw the (Face)book at them

  1. People generally have been extremely naive about using the internet but facebook has built a system so that you can actually create user tiers. It is possible to control, at every level, the amount of access someone has to your profile and it’s a matter of basic common sense. A high proportion of facebook users, particularly those young enough to be graduating, will have always had the internet. They should be aware of the problems surrounding identity online: on facebook you’re basically giving half of your life and your name to anyone who wants to look, unless you actually explore your profile settings. Facebook privacy has been discussed on the BBC and in most newspapers recently, shame on students for not thinking about it or reading the press. I’d like to point out that I have been online since I was 12 and I know all of this stuff, I have never used my full name online outside of facebook and I selected my settings very carefully as soon as I joined.You’re right that it’s not the student’s fault but the problem is that in legal terms it is. They’ve opened up their data to the public. It’s disgraceful of the university to use a website in this way but it’s not surprising. People need to 1)stop using their names online, particularly if they’re not common2)Always look at privacy settings on networking sites3)Read the rules

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