Washburn needs Facebook policy

Editorial Board

One might be surprised to learn that one of the freedoms Americans consider “basic” is not even addressed in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. What right is this, you ask? The right to privacy.

Americans have embraced this as an inalienable right, and a slew of legislature has been passed to punish those who intrude upon another’s personal and private life. But in what realm does this private life lie?

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other social networking tools similar to the almighty trifecta have evolved past its intended purpose. They are no longer just a way to communicate with long-lost friends or relatives, or a way to meet new people. Ask any high school or college student how many times a day they check their Facebook profile, and you will probably receive an answer of at least three. Clearly, social networking sites have become a way of life.

But with this evolution of technology comes an unexpected consequence: loss of privacy. Despite what many believe, these sites are not “your” space. They are public sites that are available to anyone with a prying eye. The information that is posted on Facebook or Twitter can be seen by future employers and even your RAs, which is where the situation becomes sticky.

We often log on to Facebook and look at pictures of our friends because it’s a way of seeing what someone has been doing. Statuses provide a one sentence blip that keeps you up-to-date on your friends’ daily lives. And it is not unusual for some status updates to talk about how hungover someone is, or for pictures from last night’s party to be posted by the next day. All of these pieces of information can provide a comprehensive picture of what someone did at a certain point in time.

But what if a picture or status posted by either you or someone else contained “incriminating” evidence? What are others allowed to do with this “evidence”?

At Washburn, such evidence can be used against you if you have violated student regulations. Some sources try to silver-tongue their way around it, but the out-and-out truth is that it matters a lot more than they let on. It is considered photographic evidence that you committed a crime, and punishments can be doled out based on this evidence.

This in itself is the proverbial slippery slope. Anyone with even the most basic knowledge of Photoshop can crudely insert a beer can into a regular picture, and a more practiced editor can even place a beer can in a person’s hand without disrupting the pictures fluidity. What we have is a problem of authenticity. How do authorities know what is an authentic picture and what is fake?

University authorities state that they cannot make a policy about networking sites because these are students’ private accounts, and they have nothing to do with the school. Why, then, are we picking and choosing which pieces of these sites are considered “private” and which can be used by the university against you?

Clearly, there needs to be a policy. If you can be called to the dean’s office because of something on a social networking site, then students need to be aware and protocol needs to be established.

We commend the athletic department for leading the way by allowing coaches to monitor their teams’ Facebook accounts. As for the rest of the University, take note:

If you are going to use any information found on Facebook, stop straddling the fence about the issue. Either make a policy and use the information obtained from personal Web sites, or stop allowing information on these sites to be considered evidence.