If you’ve logged into Facebook over the last few hours, you may have noticed an open letter from its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. The letter discusses forthcoming improvements to better safeguard the experience and participation of users on the site. We at the Cyberbullying Research Center highly approve of these changes, and believe they will assist in reducing online harassment and youth vulnerability to victimization.
While they will be discussed in greater detail after the rollout, Zuckerberg indicated that regional networks will be eliminated, since many networks have thousands and millions of members and therefore allow more openness and visibility in profiles than may be preferred by some users. Secondly, they will be consolidating all of the privacy and security settings into a few (or maybe even one?) page. Currently, they are scattered across numerous screens, and I would say it takes users a solid 15-20 minutes to go through each screen and completely lock down their profile to their preferences. Finally, Facebook will allow us to control who out there sees any and every single individual piece of content (note, picture, video, etc.) you upload or create. This is fantastic, and has been heavily requested for months now.
Facebook has impressed me with the granular level of control it has historically allowed individuals, and this feature will take social networking security to the next level. Presumably, their privacy initiatives and mechanisms will also serve as a model for other Web 2.0 sites to emulate.
I’ve noticed a lot of schools now have their own Facebook pages. Here are some examples: Ramblewood Middle School; Da Vinci Arts Middle School; Lincoln High School. These pages are generally created by teachers, school administrators, or school counselors as a virtual gathering place to students and staff. Does your school have one?
I can clearly see many advantages of connecting with students using the medium they are using. Teens are on Facebook everyday, and creating a portal from which they can connect with their schoolmates could certainly be a positive thing. School Facebook pages can create online communities for current and former students where they can communicate about various issues and display school pride. Furthermore, important school information can be posted to these pages (sports schedules, early dismissals, lunch menus, etc.). Student creative work, such as art, writing, or videos, also can be uploaded for all to see.
All that said, there could be problems or potential issues associated with having a school Facebook page. For example, if a student becomes a fan of the school Facebook page and has evidence of violations of school policy or the law on her own Facebook page, does the school employee moderating the school page have an obligation to report that evidence to the school or police? What if a teacher sees a message on a student’s page that says there will be a party where alcohol will be served at another student’s house on Friday night? Should (or must) the teacher call the parents of students with questionable material or would there be school consequences (such as removal from sports teams) for inappropriate information? Is it better that teachers simply don’t know what their students are doing away from the classroom?
In general, I believe the potential benefits would outweigh the risks and challenges associated with school Facebook pages. To be sure, school officials who set up Facebook pages need to clearly understand their responsibilities in the event they observe inappropriate conduct or information and students too need to understand these issues as well. As long as appropriate guidelines are established and adhered to, school Facebook pages could be a beneficial way to communicate with students (and parents) using a medium they are already very comfortable with. What do you think?
Just wanted to point out this new article sharing the story of a high-schooler who responded to a friend’s status update on Facebook, and consequently received a ridiculous sanction from his school for it. He basically stated “you’re not going to bust a grape” – indicating to his friend (who posted about fighting another girl at school) that it was just a joke, and that she wasn’t actually going to *do* anything despite her threatening words. The student – who is in Honors classes and who participated in a summer internship at USC this year – was then suspended for the rest of the school year, thereby jeopardizing his graduation date and future scholastic ambitions.
I believe that the school will likely be civilly sued by the family of the boy for overstepping their disciplinary bounds. I believe they should have taken the time to calmly ascertain what was meant by the statement made on Facebook, and attempted to address it informally rather than through suspension. This may be a case of administrators hoping to send a powerful message to the rest of the student body, but grossly overreacting and doling out a punishment incommensurate with the nature and context of the offense.
Justin and I study and work to reduce various forms of deviance and crime on social networking sites, and this recent article on CNN.com prompted me to talk about some of the issues therein.
The main thrust of the story is that cybercriminals are now using Facebook and Twitter to victimize unsuspecting individuals through “phishing” techniques, where targets click on a link and are taken to a site that convinces them to reveal personal information. This parallels the phenomenon of email phishing, where people receive what appears to be legitimate communication from their bank, cable Internet company, or an e-commerce site like eBay asking them to follow a link to fix a time-critical password/account/payment problem by typing in their private data.
The criminal usage of these links (and the convincing content that surrounds them) can be characterized as social engineering, which often involves some amount of emotional pressure to lead an individual to make a quick online decision based on invalid or unvalidated information. Undergirding these schemes is the promotion of urgency – basically saying that if you don’t click on this link and do the needful immediately, you’ll lose online access, or your reputation may be damaged, or you’ll suffer from other serious consequences.
The bottom line is that we need to make sure that we cautiously evaluate the legitimacy of the sites we visit from links within Facebook and Twitter. If you think you might actually have a password/account/payment problem on a site, go to that site directly (i.e., type the URL into your browser’s address bar) rather than clicking on a link to get there. Secondly, use your browser’s (Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, Opera) built-in anti-phishing features to verify the legitimacy of sites that you visit (whether directly linked from a social networking or microblogging site, or accessed another way).
Web 2.0 sites have provided us with many benefits, but are now being exploited to perpetrate identity theft and fraud. Carefully think about what you’re doing – and the validity of the information being presented to you – as you follow links across the WWW from these online environments.
We’ve been discussing the recent case in Britain involving 18-year-old Keeley Houghton, who posted a death threat on Facebook and was subsequently incarcerated. Specifically, the aggressor wrote the following on her own profile page, “Keeley is going to murder the bitch. She is an actress. What a ******* liberty. Emily ****head Moore.”
Those with whom I’ve talked are split on whether they agree with this sanction. In this case there had been a pattern of bullying behavior displayed by the aggressor against the target, who had been harassed face to face several times before the online incident occurred. Some may argue that free speech is being usurped, but just as you don’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater, you don’t threaten someone’s life in writing for the whole world to see. I think it’s correct for threats of this magnitude – whether physical or verbal to be taken seriously, as they may preempt needless and senseless violence. No threat should be taken lightly or regarded as meritless, and even those which may have been said in jest should be investigated and, if necessary, punished in some capacity. In this case, jail time was assigned. Will Keeley be deterred from doing something similar in the future? Will her friends, after hearing about what happened and seeing the reality of someone they know locked up? Will others across Britain who read or hear about the news story? I do believe this sends a message, and that some youth will definitely think more carefully about engaging in a similar behavior while communicating in cyberspace.