Two hundred and one GW students have formed a group to “save” Whitney Thomas, who is thinking about transferring to the University of Washington. At least 32 students think that Donkey Lips (think old-school Nickelodeon) is hot. Over 360 have publicly declared their virginity.
And, if they want to, anybody at GW can find the name, residence hall, home address and favorite book of most of these students.
Thefacebook.com, a Web site that allows college students to create personal profiles and search for information on classmates at the same school, has revolutionized the GW social scene.
But privacy concerns have caused students to question: are the costs of publicizing so much personal information worth the advantages?
In a time when government programs such as the Patriot Act are raising controversy over the protection of the basic American right to privacy, the popularity of the Facebook has led thousands of GW students to voluntarily expose intimate information about their personal lives over the Internet.
The Facebook, usually called simply Facebook, is used by students to learn about people in their classes, form groups with others who share a common interest and even keep up with the lives of their friends from other colleges.
One of the unique features allows Facebook users to “poke” friends and acquaintances. A note is then sent to the poked with a picture of a pointing finger, informing the recipient of the electronic nudge.
Though simple in theory, the Facebook poke can carry potentially complicated undertones.
“It’s underlying sexual tension,” said sophomore Brandon DeBaun.
“It’s a nefarious euphemism,” freshman Michael Reilly agreed.
In addition to poking, students can communicate through messages similar to short e-mails. This has become a popular means of communication among students, for everything from party announcements, to campaign ads, and even starting conversations with people that may be awkward if confronted face to face.
“It’s the depersonalization – just like instant messaging” that makes it easier for some people to talk through Facebook messages, said freshman Shannon Leahy. While this easy way of getting to know fellow students can lead to the forming of friendships and even relationships, the problem of “Facebook stalkers” has become an intimidating reality for some users.
One GW freshman said she regularly receives messages from males she does not know, a few of which become a bit too persistent. One began sending her messages regularly through Facebook. Upon his request, she confirmed him as a friend.
“Then came the incessant poking,” she said. When he began to harass her in instant messages, she removed him from her list of friends and blocked him on Instant Messenger.
“I used to have my cell number on my profile, but I took it off,” she said. “There’s definitely a down side to Facebook.”
Stalking, however, is not always so blatant.
“You can anonymously stalk people, in a very creepy way,” said DeBaun. By reading people’s profiles, finding out who their friends are, what they look like and even where they live, any Facebook user can find out a lot about a person simply by viewing information that any user can access.
Among other personal information, most people include their “relationship status” in their profile, in addition to the kind of relationship they may be looking for at the moment: friendship, dating, a relationship, random play.
“Facebook allows you to have a big ‘taken’ sticker on you,” said sophomore Diana Mantell. “Or just the opposite.”
Mantell said there are ups and downs to the feature; while it can let Facebook users know whether someone is available or not, an awkward situation can arise when someone needs to change their status.
“You lose the option of just telling certain people (if you’ve started or ended a relationship) when you’re ready,” she said.
Privacy options on Facebook, however, allow users to block certain people from seeing certain aspects of their profile, which can allow, for example, only friends to see their class schedule or block faculty from seeing their “personal info.”
The new reality of Web-based social networks has forced many into the struggle of trying to retain privacy while still embracing the computer-age social scene – a scene that increasingly allows peers to have access to a detailed, public and printable summary of their fellow classmates’ lives.