SU officials' use of Facebook creates problems for students with a false sense of privacy

Julianne Pepitone

Issue date: 1/25/06 Section: News



When Christian Obermanns opened his apartment door to find a uniformed Syracuse Police officer standing before him, the Syracuse University junior could not have imagined the reason for the officer's visit: Facebook.com.

Obermanns, an international relations major, posted the plans for a party on the Facebook "My Events" section four days before the Friday event at his South Campus apartment, he said.

"Two days after I put the announcement up, they sent over a uniformed Syracuse policeman," Obermanns said. "He said somehow 'they,' whoever that is, got word that we were having a party, and he basically said that if we had the party they were going to come bust us."

The department of Public Safety is usually the "they" who handles such cases, and Facebook is sometimes used as a source for finding such events, said Director of Public Safety Marlene Hall.

While Hall said she was not familiar with Obermanns' particular case, she said Public Safety usually does not respond to event postings or any other Facebook-related issue unless an SU student calls with a complaint.

"Usually, we'll get a neighbor calling or someone with an issue about a bias-related incident," Hall said. "We have enough things to worry about without sitting at the computer waiting for something to come up on Facebook."

But both Hall and Public Safety Capt. Drew Buske said the department does check Facebook, and will act if an event is in violation of the Code of Conduct.

"If someone brings something to our attention, we're not going to look the other way," Hall said. "We're going to send someone to let them know there is a problem."

Public Safety has received calls about several problems relating to Facebook and other online communities, like the Web site MySpace.com, other than parties with underage drinking, Buske said.

"When people expose themselves, they become targets electronically," he said. "It opens up the possibility of harassment and bias-related incidents. One student was receiving letters from someone who found her address through Facebook, and she was feeling stalked. Anybody can use what you put on there and take it to the 10th degree."

If a potential event, form of communication or any other problem is determined to violate the Student Code of Conduct, Public Safety passes the case on to the Office of Judicial Affairs, Hall said.

Director of Judicial Affairs Juanita Perez Williams said incidents relating to Facebook would be treated the same as any other complaint. Williams said she was not familiar with Obermanns' case because it was an event that did not actually occur, but she said Judicial Affairs deals with cases similarly.
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