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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Feb. 24, 2006

What's the hype about Facebook?

by Samantha Beres

When Adam Foley, hall director of Birch-Welch-Roberts, glances into a dorm room, he usually sees a student staring at a computer screen. Studying hard? Foley said it's more likely the student is checking out his or her Facebook profile.

"It's pretty evident that anybody who doesn't have a Facebook profile is in the minority," he said.

ISU junior Kristen McLain's Facebook page

ISU junior Kristen McLain's Facebook page. Used with permission.

If you don't know what Facebook is, or have only heard about it, here is an introduction: what it is, how it's used, and some concerns that have risen with the popularity of online communities.

First, what is it?

Facebook is an online social networking community. Anyone with an e-mail address that ends in ".edu" from a school that Facebook serves can register through the Facebook Web site.

There are several other online networking communities, such as MySpace and Friendster. The difference is that these sites are open to the public. Facebook creates a somewhat closed community for each college or university.

Facebook users can log in, look at profiles of other users from their school, send messages and do searches to find people with similar interests.

According to Chris Hughes, spokesman for Facebook, there are nearly 22,000 registered users from Iowa State. The breakdown is: 17,230 students, 3,260 alumni, 374 graduate students and 987 faculty/staff.

When creating their profiles, students tend to divulge a lot of information, such as their addresses, cell phone numbers and classes they're taking. Most even post photographs of themselves. A public "wall" on each profile page posts messages from other users.

Who's looking and who cares?

And while students are talking about what's on their walls, college administrators are concerned about how much personal information they're sharing.

Some students, said Foley, don't realize the personal information they're filling in is optional, so they fill in all the fields. "It's a stalker's paradise. If you want to find something out about somebody, you can," he said.

A separate issue of concern to administrators is whether students are aware that Facebook is a public forum. (Some profiles include content that isn't exactly squeaky clean). People with access to an ".edu" account -- administrators, prospective employers, criminal investigators, parents -- could look at profiles.

Sally Deters, a residence life coordinator in the residence department, said while she shares these concerns, there are lots of positives.

"It's a good way for students to network. Student organizations can advertise and get the word out about events around campus," she said.

Students can belong to groups and connect with, say, other New York Yankee fans. They can find people in the same bio lecture, even figure out if someone is single or not (if they're being honest).

Deters said that Facebook allows her to put a name with a face. She, Foley and other Iowa State staff log on to get a picture of how students are communicating, what they're talking about and what they're interested in.

"Part of my job is being able to connect, relate and know what's going on in their lives," Foley said. "It's also emerging as a way that students communicate with us."

What one researcher says

Michael Bugeja, director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, is researching how technology such as social online networks impacts society.

While students (and the Facebook spokesperson) have said that Facebook enhances face-to-face interaction, Bugeja said his research shows it is replacing it.

His recent paper in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Jan. 27) reports that Facebook receives 250 million hits a day and ranks ninth in overall Internet traffic.

Time spent is only one aspect of his research, Bugeja said. Facebook categorizes students in a way that puts them at the mercy of marketers. Technology purchased for education, such as wireless lecture halls, also is being used for entertainment (by students who log on to social networks during class).

"Granted, a handful of students may be doing this, but it's something we need to consider," he cautions.

Another consideration is privacy and discretion. Bugeja said a colleague of his recently logged on to MySpace to find a fake profile of himself.

"I have seen fabrications on Facebook, too," he said.

Is Bugeja anti-Facebook? No, he said, just honest.

"You have to be honest and objective with students and provide factual data about what is occurring so they can make critical choices about the consequences they will accept," he said. "Students have a right to know how the technology can be used for or against them."


"Part of my job is being able to connect, relate and know what's going on in their lives. It's also emerging as a way that students communicate with us."

Adam Foley