Watch your hands, not your back

By Alyssa Creamer

Your alarm rings. You’re alone as you wake up in your dorm. It was a wild night, but today is a new, normal day. You update your status on Facebook, like every morning, before chomping on Frosted Flakes and drinking fruit punch out of the container. You know no one can see you as you press your nose into yesterday’s jeans, smelling before deciding they’re okay to slip into.

No one knows those dirty secrets because it would be completely outrageous if someone were covertly snapping photos of your every move while tape-recording your every sentence. Since even before the book 1984 came out, the idea of Big Brother watching over your every move has freaked out just about everyone.

But today, government scrutiny of our generation might be slightly less of a threat to students who fear their secrets spilling out into the streets than the mouths and finger work of these students.

It is hard for many students to think that they are their own worst enemy when it comes to privacy. But whatever the reason, it seems as though students have an absolute need to constantly be updating the rest of the world about what they are doing. Facebook, in all its glorious social networking powers, is still a public forum, in which every status update a person makes is sent into all of his or her friends’ news feeds. And it doesn’t end there. The update is also left up on a personal “wall” that is the first thing seen by anyone – friend or foe – who visits that page.

Don’t believe Facebook can be a privacy issue? Well, two University of Massachusetts students will learn otherwise in court. Their brief joyride in a research car at the end of September caused $8,400 in damages. Their Facebook statuses implied what they had done that night and “can and will” be used against them. The information they posted online was seen by police officers and will undoubtedly be used as evidence. For allegedly stealing the car and smashing it into the guardrail outside one of UMass’ buildings, the young men could face up to 36 months in prison.

That’s not to say that our tax dollars are going towards police officers spending their free time surfing through student pages to catch a culprit – they don’t get paid enough to be that creepy. However, if you commit a crime and the cops need evidence on you, saying nothing might be better than putting up a status that says “OMG, I am so screwed.”

“I know there have been situations and circumstances where the UMass Police Department (UMPD) has used Facebook to gather information when we have access to the pages,” said Patrick Archibald, Deputy Chief of UMPD. “It’s not a regular tool we use at the police department, because Facebook information isn’t all that reliable so it’s not a place that we turn to frequently. It is one of many tools that we use though.”

People who students want to impress, such as future employers, admissions officers, family members and even potential friends or dates, can discover unflattering images of a person on Facebook. According to a news report in June 2006 done by CBS correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi, some employers, “estimated that about 20 percent of companies are secretly scanning online profiles before they interview applicants. What they often find is shocking – including profiles that detail drug use, orgies and illegal behavior.”

Plus, half the statuses people put up, no one cares about.

“We don’t want to hear you rant to yourself on your Facebook status,” said sophomore Kristina Evans. “Get a diary.”

If you don’t want the entire world to know every little thing you do, don’t post it on Facebook. If you smoke cigarettes and your parents don’t know, don’t post pictures of you smoking so that cousin Al who secretly hates you can use them for blackmail. Really want that sweet job at the Apple store? It’s probably a really good idea not to show them you spend your Saturday nights boozing at the fraternity and letting loose before your Sunday afternoon shift. It seems like common sense, but there are millions of Facebook users in this country, and a large portion of photos uploaded into profiles involve party scenes complete with keg stands and sloppy, scantily-clad red-cup bearers.

No, today it is far more important to be watching what you type and upload onto the world-freaking-wide Web, than to be watching your back.

Alyssa Creamer is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]