Facebook postings, photos incriminate dorm party-goers

Drew Chalfant
November 2, 2005
Filed under News

Northern Kentucky University students have joined a growing list of college students who have learned the price of letting it all hang out on the Internet.

Four NKU students learned the hard way that Big Brother is always watching. The students received University Code of Conduct violations when administrators saw pictures posted on Facebook.com that depicted them drinking in a Kentucky Hall dorm room.

The four students received a $50 fine, one year of probation on campus and were forced to attend a class about the dangers of binge drinking.

Facebook is an online community that allows students to create a profile based on the school they attend. Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard graduate, created the Web site in 2004. The Web site describes itself as “an online directory that connects people through social networks at schools.”

With the expanding popularity of online communities, some students have discovered that they aren’t the only ones checking up on their friends.

“Some RA turned us in. They saw the pictures and then we got (our violations),” Erik, one of the four students and host of the party at which the pictures were taken, said.

The pictures feature students surrounding a keg of beer they managed to bring into the dorms. “We were going to say it was a root beer keg but we figured they were smarter than that,” Erik said.

The use of Facebook to catch students can lead one to wonder: How far are administrators willing and able to go to catch students the breaking rules?

“You are at your own risk posting stuff on there,” said Pete Trentacoste, assistant Director of University Housing. Trentacoste explained that while the administration does not usually go looking for evidence of illegal activity online, it is often brought to its attention by someone else.

“Facebook is not something we look at a whole lot. I don’t know that administrators are really that attuned to it,” Trentacoste said. An editorial written by the editors of The Technician, a student newspaper at North Carolina State University, expressed outrage over a similar situation. They argued that it is impossible to tell if students really are breaking rules or if a picture only seems to depict drinking or other violations.

NKU officials have a different point of view. “We’re different from the law,” Trentacoste said, referring to the procedures University Housing officials use to enforce the rules. In the case of these pictures, Trentacoste said, “We’re looking at it as if a reasonable person would believe this occurred.”

Students do have a way to appeal their violations and can meet with the directors of University Housing to make their case. “They may not always agree with our decisions but we give them a fair shake,” Trentacoste said.

NKU does not have an official policy concerning online site monitoring, so administrators are free to browse these sites for illegal activities. “The administration were the last people I expected to see it,” said Chris a former NKU student, who was also punished for the pictures. “I feel it was an invasion of my privacy.”

“Students feel whatever happens online isn’t searchable, (but) there is a way for these to be searched, a way for them to be indexed,” Trentacoste said. He is concerned that students may not be thinking about the future when they post sensitive information online. “You feel anonymous on there but if there’s anywhere you aren’t anonymous, it’s the Internet.” Facebook states in its terms of use that users are “solely responsible for the content, photos or profiles content that you publish or display.” Despite the sanctions they received, the students haven’t given up on using Facebook.

“Oh yeah, I still use Facebook. I just don’t put up any more incriminating pictures,” Erik said.

Editors note: The full names of the students involved in this incident have been omitted at their request to ensure privacy.

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