Sunday, April 09, 2006

Facebook Shows The Real Face Of Florida University

University of Florida administrator Mike Rollo signed up for, a social Web site catering to college students, to learn more about students' lives and see what they were up to.

He was "really surprised" by the things he saw — the tamest of which were complaints about professors.

One female UF student had posted a photo of herself drunk and passed out on a bathroom floor. A photo on another student's site had two coeds partially clothed and apparently having sex.

Stories about Saturday night hookups, drunken spring breaks and other sordid tales once reserved for scribbles in private diaries are posted on pages for friends, predators, and — uh-oh — college donors to see.

So what's a university administrator charged with protecting and educating 50,000 young adults to do?

Rollo crafted a memo of voluntary guidelines. They include tidbits of wisdom such as: "Partying and boozing probably don't qualify as hobbies and interests" if a future employer was to look at a student's site.

"UF students are allowed to do what they want, but we are asking them to think about it first," said Rollo, an associate vice president who helps oversee UF's Division of Student Affairs. "That picture of the students having intercourse, why you would share that, I'm not sure. But they seem to share the most intimate aspects of their lives.", created in 2004 by a Harvard student, is in some ways safer than other social Web sites such as because it requires a user to have a college e-mail address, which limits access and makes it hard to be anonymous.

But because caters to college students and uses college e-mail systems, school officials feel more of an obligation to watch the site and do something about the behavior they see on it.

After all, future students and alumni could view pages as a reflection of the school. A picture of a UF architecture major sitting on a toilet with his pants around his ankles is not the official image the Gator Nation wants to project.

Of course, it's not just UF. has become the subject of national university conferences where administrators — some of whom are still trying to figure out blogs — brainstorm ideas about taming the site or debate whether they should just ignore it altogether.

Even Palm Beach Atlantic University, a Christian school in West Palm Beach, is grappling with Facebook issues. Underage students have posted pictures on their sites of drinking in dorm rooms — a big no-no.

Then there is 19-year-old Pablo Diaz, a Forest Hill High School graduate who attends the University of Central Florida. He lists not only his cellphone number but his address, including apartment number, and his course schedule. He also has a handful of raucous party photos on his site, including one of girls kissing and one of Diaz dirty dancing with a girl while another man is grabbing her breasts through her shirt, pulled halfway up.

Diaz said he lists his address so classmates can contact him for projects.

He said the girl in the dirty dancing photo sent it to him and that he doesn't have a problem posting it on his site or having school officials or future employers view it.

"I don't think it's fair for employers to judge you," Diaz said. "This is your personal life. It has nothing to do with work or school."

Rollo, the UF administrator, thinks that's short-sighted.

"I'm not sure most parents are aware of this, or that students understand what it could do to them in the future," he said.

Facebook and other social Web sites are blocked on some FSU computers. Students are warned that while administrators are not combing Facebook for inappropriate or illegal behavior, if it comes to their attention, the student "will be held accountable."

University of South Florida student William Wagner said that's OK with him, as long as the school isn't searching sites for wrongdoing.

Wagner, 22, lists his interests on his Facebook site as "your mom" and has lots of party photos, including ones in which he's using a 'beer bong.' But with graduation and the real world in sight, Wagner is thinking about changing his site, he said, taking down some party pics and putting up legitimate hobbies.

"I don't want people to think that that's something I do every day — wake up and do a beer bong," Wagner said. "I like to have fun, but that's not me all the time."

PBAU is putting together a task force to study new Facebook policies that would take effect next year. Searle said privacy rights have been considered and will be discussed with a school attorney, but that the school probably will intervene if administrators see illegal behavior or violations to the school's student code of conduct on Facebook.

"It's easier not to deal with it," Searle said. "But once you open that can of worms, you have to figure out where to go. We can't ignore it. We have to take an educational approach to it."

Source – Palm Beach Post

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