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Putting Your Best Face(book) Forward

Written by Meredith Farley
12/17/2008

Facebook

What started out in 2004 as an insular online network for Harvard University students is now a college-life staple. Facebook has become a keystone of casual communication. More than 70 million people worldwide visited the social networking site in April of this year alone. The communications phenomenon, launched by then-sophomore Mark Zuckerberg, is not just an online community for students; it has become a representation of one’s individuality.

See Facebook's young CEO on 60 Minutes and hear him talk about privacy issues:


Currently, the largest growing demographic for Facebook users is people over the age of 30. As the network leaves the realm of college campuses and becomes a truly public domain, the rules -- both official and understood -- have begun to shift. Facebook’s entry into mainstream culture has made it a powerful networking tool that can be a double-edged sword if you don’t represent yourself in a positive manner. It’s a hard concept to embrace because most college students join the online community as a way to keep in touch with friends in a casual setting, share pictures, and meet new people. And that’s the rub -- what you post for your friends can accidentally become a professional representation of yourself.

It may seem unfair for employers to check students’ Facebook profiles, but it echoes the mindset of the professional world: everything you make public about your life is fair game for scrutiny. It’s up to you to use your discretion and represent yourself appropriately.

Remember that parents, high school and college administrators, and employers can see your profile unless you change your settings to private, which gives you control over who can see your pictures and personal information. Even after changing your settings you should still be cautious; what you post on your friends’ profiles can be seen according to their settings. If you’ve applied for a job or choose to leave your profile public, make sure to edit it accordingly, and not just for last weekend’s pictures.

“Students should be very careful about putting personal identification, like e-mail, addresses and telephone numbers, online,” says Bill Ferguson, the associate director of the Office of Public Safety. “Publishing that information is like putting it on the first page of the paper. Anything that can tell someone about your daily routine is dangerous.”

Also be wary of unknown friend requests. In a study conducted by Sophos, a security software developer, 87 out of 200 people accepted a friend request from a made-up Facebook user named Freddi Staur. By doing so, they unwittingly granted the fake profile access to their personal information.

Another area that requires caution is the use of Facebook applications. Many users don’t realize that the applications are owned by third-party organizations. Facebook has placed restrictions on third-party participants: they may only store your information for 24 hours. But during that time they have access your complete profile and your user ID. Applications can also capture all that you do: all of your friends’ information, activities, and histories are available to the companies providing the application you’ve downloaded. Remember that companies develop and provide applications for a reason: users are the products that Facebook offers the commercial world.

At Ithaca College, the Facebook task force is exploring ways to use the network to the advantage of students and faculty.

“It can be a very professional representation of yourself, if used properly,” says Facebook task force member Jake Daniel. “We can use these tools to collaborate with students all over the world. We can advance how we teach classes, connect students and alumni, and keep everyone in touch with the institution itself.”

Facebook is being used for more than just keeping tabs on friends, especially in countries without freedom of speech. In Egypt, Facebook offers a respite from the long-standing censorship and oppression of the Egyptian “emergency government.” Last April, a protest against rising food prices was organized by 20-year-old student Belai Diab and was attended by 80,000 citizens. It was organized partly through Facebook invites and took place during the Egyptian prime minister’s speech.

In the four years since its inception, Facebook has gone from insular to international, and users have harnessed its power to organize and motivate large groups of people. In the coming years we might see online networks like Facebook playing a greater roll in the progress of political causes and community discussion, as well as professional networking. As long as you are cautious there’s no reason not to take advantage of the opportunities Facebook offers.



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