ALEX GILLIS April 2 2007


ALEX GILLIS April 2 2007

We can’t stop meeting like this

Great for socializing, Facebook's perils make students worry

BY ERIN MILLAR • “If I wasn’t on Facebook, it would be like I didn’t even exist socially,” says Justin Yap, a University of British Columbia student. For Yap, the online networking site is the centre of his social life. On his Facebook profile you can browse through his 341 friends, a video clip of his performance in UBC’s production of lolanthe, his phone number and address (apartment number included), and what events he plans to attend this week. Yap updates the site often enough to tell his friends that he slept in and missed class, is in the mood for karaoke, and is now in the music building. If you missed Dennis and Mike’s birthday party last week, you can view Yap’s 527 posted pictures.

Facebook, masterminded by 22-year-old Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg, is based on the paper face-books that are distributed at American colleges at the beginning of the school year to help students get to know each other. With over 17 million users, the site allows you to find new friends in your residence who like the same movies as you, or look up whether that cute girl you met at the campus pub is actually cute. No longer do students have to depend on old-fashioned social techniques like gossip, note passing, and, say, telephones. Now, from the comfort of your residence room, you can have a completely virtual social life.

Yap checks the site about 15 times a day. “It’s really addictive,” he says. “It’s way easier and cheaper to plan what I’m doing that night than by calling or texting [messaging on cellphones]. You can see who is coming out and what they think about it.”

Yap also uses the site to keep in contact with old friends. “This is a way to put your foot through the door when you don’t talk to people for a while.” He claims that he actually knows all of his 341 Facebook friends even if some are not “true friends,” but rather acquaintances. “Once I found a friend of mine from the Philippines who I haven’t seen since I was there five or six years ago. He lives in Vancouver now and we reconnected through Facebook. That’s pretty cool.”


Even though Facebook is making meeting people easier, it comes with a whole new set of challenges and etiquette. Vanessa Larkey, a University of Toronto student, has seen “How long should you wait after breaking up before changing it?” Thanks to Facebook’s news feed feature, everything you do on the site is broadcast to your entire network, including changes to your profile.

friends fight with their boyfriends about their Facebook relationship status. “If they didn’t put anything or said that they were single, their boyfriends got really mad.” Relationship status is also an awkward issue, she says.

The news feed feature annoys U of T student Carole Park. “I don’t care what you put on your toast this morning!” she says, exasperated. She also doesn’t like that Facebook is now open to anyone. “I liked it better when it was just for universities. Back then, MySpace was the Facebook for dropouts.”


Despite the fact that anyone could access her profile, Park posted her personal information—until recently. One day she arrived on campus to find her Facebook profile published in U of T student paper the Gargoyle and distributed all over the university. Park, who edits the Strand, a competing paper, had mocked the Gargoyle's design in a recent issue. This was their revenge. “It was so embarrassing,” she says. “After it was published in print, I realized that I didn’t want all that info out there. I don’t know why having it on paper is any different than on the Web, but it is.” Privacy concerns are very real: last year, the United States Secret Service investigated an Oklahoma student when they discovered a post about assassinating President George W. Bush and replacing him with a monkey. And two students from Louisiana State University lost their sports scholarships when they badmouthed their coach online.

Emily Bedford learned the hard way to be careful about what she posts. She was fired from her job as a bartender in New Brunswick because of an exchange of wall-posts with a co-worker. The two students joked on Facebook about another co-worker’s boyfriend who regularly took alcohol from behind the bar. “I didn’t think anything of it. But apparently the manager checks it quite a bit, and reads a lot of conversations.”

Now that the site is open to the public, external groups are finding ways to make use of the vast network of students. Ben West, B.C. organizer for the Green Party of Canada, believes that Facebook had a large part in the London, Ont., by-election in October. Party leader Elizabeth May came in second with 26 per cent of the vote, the strongest performance in the party’s history. “We sent group and event invites out to people we met on the ground at Western and then they sent them to their network of friends,” he said. “People joined the group and came to the events because they could see that their friends were doing it.”

As the public gets wise to the impact of Facebook, additional uses and features will surely emerge. The popular job search site Jobster recently announced a partnership with Facebook to be unveiled this spring. Even Barack Obama organizes events through his 65,000-member group, “Barack Obama for President.” But for students like Justin Yap, the site’s overarching function is just to organize hanging out. In fact, Yap’s current profile maybe telling as to Facebook’s true purpose: “Justin is procrastinating—badly.” M