Facebook obsession a scary thought

Breanne George

Online directory phenomenon could lead to stalking because of detailed profiles

Lori Ann Brindle is adventurous and loves to try new things. She wants to go bungee jumping and skydiving someday.

She works at Target in Stow, her hometown and current place of residence.

She is taking five classes this semester including Art of the Theatre.

Even someone who has never met Brindle can find out this information and more.

Facebook, the online community of college students, is a great way for students to interact with other students and rekindle high school friendships. But it has potential dangers.

“The aura of anonymity makes students more open to putting personal information on their Facebook profile,” said Greg Seibert, director of Security and Compliance. “Students forget that there are bad people out there that could be looking at their personal information.”

Students put a lot of personal information on Facebook profiles, including their home addresses, cell phone numbers, work place and even class schedules.

“Facebook definitely makes it easy for stalkers to obtain information about a student,” said Mike Byrne, junior art education major. “There are very naA_ve people out there who are too trusting.”

There are 24,000 students at Kent State who can view a student’s profile. Add faculty, staff and alumni and the number is even higher. While most people will not use Facebook for stalking or other malicious behavior, there is always a risk. Brindle restricts her personal information due to this possibility.

“I really don’t want 24,000 people knowing where I live,” Brindle said. “I have seen people put there home address on it (Facebook) and wonder why. I think those people are just asking to be stalked.”

A person must have a college e-mail address to become a Facebook user, which prevents non-students from viewing profiles. While this is a safeguard, it is not error proof.

“It makes me feel better to know only college students can look at my profile,” Brindle said. “I wouldn’t want random 40-year-old men knowing my personal information.”

Almost 4 million students from 2,000 colleges belong to Facebook, spokesman Chris Hughes said. Unlike other online directories, Facebook is not large and anonymous. Students from other colleges cannot view a student’s profile unless they are listed as friends.

“When we designed it, we wanted to build a site that would be grounded in any given user’s ‘real’ community,” Hughes said. “All the profiles a student can view are of people with whom he or she could share a class with, pass on the path or have a meal together.”

While Facebook helps students interact with people at their college, it also makes it easier for students to be stalked, said Seibert, who has dealt with a few stalking incidences via Facebook at Kent State.

“A stalking incident occurred at Kent State involving Facebook when it first became popular,” Greg Seibert said. “A Kent State co-ed couldn’t get away from a local resident who found all her information on Facebook. He e-mailed and called her constantly. I told him if this continued I would contact the police.”

The most common stalking situations Seibert said he encounters are between people who used to be in a relationship.

“A couple breaks up, one of them has a hard time letting go, and they either get a hold of the person’s Facebook account or send nasty messages,” Seibert said. “In most cases, the stalking is relatively minor.”

Facebook users have complete control over how much information they want people to see and who can view their profile, Hughes said. Users can control their privacy so only friends can view their profile.

“I like how I can control the security setting,” Byrne said. “I don’t put my phone number on Facebook because I don’t want to get prank calls or random people calling me. I would rather not put myself in any situation like that.”

Facebook, like instant messaging and blogging, is a great way to keep in contact with friends and meet new people. Seibert said Facebook is less secure than other forms of online communication because of the extensive personal information on student’s profiles.

“There has to be a certain level of trust among people,” Seibert said. “But there has to be boundaries and students need to protect themselves.”

Contact academic technology reporter Breanne George at [email protected].