What happens on Facebook…

Karl Flores

The following article is a guest contribution by Prof. Karl Flores of the Computer Science and Informations Systems Department at Grossmont College.  GC Summit welcomes guest contributions from faculty, staff and students.

GROSSMONT COLLEGE–“Uh…I’m a lesbian.” This was a recent entry of one of my students on her Facebook account. Ah yes, the freedom to experiment with new ideas and exploring new pathways to life, that’s what college is all about. I remember when I was in college, I also experimented with being a lesbian or maybe that was a thespian. Not sure, it was a long time ago. I was asked to play a small part in my friend’s stage adaptation of The Female Eunich. But I didn’t do it because I had issues with people messing with my junk. But I digress.

Another student posted a picture of herself just after having her belly button pierced, which quite frankly looked quite painful. Later in the day, she then posted an announcement that she had a huge fight with her father who saw the post and was looking for a place to sleep. Note to students with Facebook accounts; learn to use the private settings on Facebook especially if your parents are also friends. In a recent survey, it was found that 32% of parents with Facebook accounts are friends with their children. Also something to ponder if you have a parent all of a sudden interested in “friending” you, according to iStrategyLabs, which tracks social networking trends, the fastest-growing demographic which now represents some 30 percent of the entire user base of 500 million, is the 35-54 age group, which of course are your parents.

Here is a question to ponder. Is my writing about the above posts violating a privacy agreement between my friends/students and myself? Is there a rule or politically correct guiding principle, which states what is posted on Facebook, stays on Facebook? After all, both posts were to “everyone” and both of their accounts are open for all to see. Should I respect their privacy and not talk about their posts in an open forum such as the school newspaper?

I created a Facebook account four years ago. I was my only “friend” for the first 3-½ years but this past year, I have noticed that Facebook has come to the forefront of the American conscience and is currently being used by more than 500 million people throughout the world. Companies are using Facebook to market to us through a new strategy known as “Social Media”.

Despite having a Facebook account for four years, I have only 33 friends. Over the past year that has grown and shrunk mainly because some people I have “friended’ can be quite annoying so thus they get the “un-friend” button. I have had hundreds of requests to become a friend and have chosen not to. I admit I’m a bit of a Facebook snob. A childhood friend of mine who recently retired learned about Facebook and created an account and we became “friends”. He then became a friend of a woman who turned out to be someone who was soliciting people on Facebook for her adult website. Using the “friends” of “friends” method, she asked me to be a friend. When I looked her up, I quickly learned who she really was and what her intentions were so I reported her to Facebook as a violation of their standing pornography rules and had her account removed. Fortunately, my friend “un-friended” her before his wife got home as they share a Facebook account.

My current friends post an occasional activity, which I enjoy, cause that’s really what “friends” are all about. People who share not only “like” activities, but also are people who I care about and want to keep in touch with and share my activities such as my recent post looking for a bookkeeper for a colleague and within an hour had three great candidates. I also used LinkedIn. Although I never “poked” anyone, I have posted on others’ walls, commented, sent a message, posted links, videos and photos, made friends, become a fan, and liked many things. I wonder if Facebook would ever consider putting a “like-like” option? There are things and people I “like” and then there are those things and people who I “like-like”.

So here is my concern, isn’t Facebook “for entertainment” purposes only? Or is Facebook content considered legally binding information that can be used against us either at home, with friends, at work, when applying for a job or more importantly in a court of law? I ask that because based on the number of “penis farms” that are being created on Farmville, a game many seem to play on Facebook, I can’t help believe it is a place more for entertainment. I do have to say, I have never played computer games much less any of the games on Facebook, but admit I do enjoy a round of “Chuck Norris” quips now and again. I have to wonder though, not having read Facebook’s business model or terms of service, that if they were to place a clause in there “Business Plan” that stated “Facebook is to be considered for entertainment purposes only”, if that declaration might have a negative effect on the current value estimate of $60 billion dollars. Those are very expensive “penis farms” don’t you think? I do understand why they feel it has the value based on the number of people active. When you compare the recent purchase of NBC Universal at $13.8 billion, which some financial experts feel is overpriced, on their best day, based on all of their networks both online and cable, I doubt NBC Universal can compete with Facebook’s 500 million users. For me, based on my 25 years of having access to the Internet, (I had an online account before Al Gore), and watching the likes of Mark Cuban founder of Broadcast.com and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, become a billionaire on the sale of Broadcast.com to Yahoo, I think  maybe $35 billion might be more realistic. Especially since Cuban, on his blog declared “the internet is dead and boring.” In many ways I have to agree with Cuban. What ever the number is, you’ve got to admit that Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook, won’t have to look at menu prices or worry about getting a date anytime soon. I hear he still rents though.

Friends beware, recently, the State of California, particularly the labor department that oversees the people on disability, made an announcement that they were perusing Facebook accounts of clients, looking for people on disability who post images of themselves skiing, triathlons, biking or engaged in other rigorous activities, which might challenge their disability claim. Can the State of California really use Facebook posts as legal evidence to challenge one of their clients disability claim? Another recent article found that companies are using Facebook accounts to determine whether to hire a candidate for an open position. In other words, if you are friend with me, and they determine I am of questionable character, which I suppose I can be, then maybe you are also a questionable character and they won’t hire you. Can companies use what they find on employee Facebook accounts as reason for termination? Imagine if you will, in the privacy of your home, you are engaging in questionable behavior and post it on your Facebook account for your friends. Your boss hears about the post at the water cooler and goes online and looks. Next thing you know, security is escorting you off the premises. And as in my first two examples of posts from my students, should parents use what their adult children post as reason to argue life style choices they might be exploring? And what happens when your parents start to LOL, LSLIP and OMG, your friends’ posts before you?

I’m not challenging what “appropriate” posts are on Facebook, but what my real question is, are they legal? I personally consider Facebook strictly a form of entertainment. As I stated before, for me it is an opportunity to keep track of friends, family and students who want to share exciting occurrences in their daily lives. Mundane as some of the posts I see from them may be, such as a post from a friend who made “Darth Vader” pancakes and posted a picture, some of the posts recently have gotten not only more provocative but also political.

More concerning, Facebook has now become the leading resource for political activists who not only want to present their concerns about their governments but also to engage and organize political protests with their “friends”. Such that an entire country, Egypt, shut down the Internet entirely. The Chinese have limited access and Google is still not welcome in the country. Another observation I’ve made recently, why Facebook? Although there have been other online technologies that provided similar features to post ideas and information be they political or social, why has Facebook moved to the forefront, such that it has become a daily, if not hourly, routine to check one’s Facebook status? Has the popularity and success of the movie The Social Nework which tells the story of the early days of creating “the Facebook,” helped spur on the fascination with the technology? The movie wasn’t that good, was it? Or is it just a fad? Many things come and go in the world of technology and particularly the Internet, and in the future we may find Facebook taking the path of others such as MySpace, launch.com, broadcast.com or Grocer.com. In a recent article on InformationWeek.com, one journalist warned that Facebook and Groupon could fuel the next dot.com crash. My concern is that it could also take with it many careers, relationships, reputations, lives, and bring down governments. Look what “sexting” did to the Parkers.

I have two accounts. One is for school and one is for me. The irony is, the one I created for me, I originally created for school but could never get my students to sign-up or friend me so it became my account for my friends. This past semester I created a new account for the students and currently have them using this as a way for us to communicate. I did this before the “group” function was activated recently on Facebook. I have also, through this account, become friends with every Karl Flores throughout the Facebook world. Both accounts are open.

So here is my advice short of creating multiple accounts. Learn to use Facebook before you start posting images of you at last night’s rage. Do people still “rage”? Two features worth learning about are the private setting and the “group” function where you can post private messages to some friends but not others, and consider keeping your profile private to only friends  with whom you want to communicate. Think of it as doing what some of your parents may have done on the TV by blocking certain stations from your viewing. My last point is something I hope you all might consider. It’s my new motto. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. Before hitting the share button on your next post, consider who and where that post will be seen. Look for me on Facebook because like Woody and Buzz, “you’ve got a ‘friend’ in me.” Well maybe.

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Karl Flores is an adjunct instructor at Grossmont College in the Computer Sciences and Information Systems department. He can be followed on twitter @iprofflores, LinkedIn, Facebook, and emailed at [email protected]