3.17.2006

Facebook Surveillance

A former student sends me this email about a recent event in one of his classes:

Yo Spencer, just wanted to let you know something kinda funny about Facebook on campus. I'm taking [Intro to X] ... and nearly my entire discussion (and probably the whole lecture) got marked down significantly on their stories because of Facebook.

The Guidelines to the course say we cannot interview anybody we know. My TA warned us that he knows how to use Facebook, but I didn't buy it. So I went ahead and 1 out of my 4 sources was a Friend on Facebook, so I got marked down to a D, along with the majority of the class. Then the TA gave a long lecture the next discussion, gloating about catching us, and warning us how he'll catch us anyway.

What I find most interesting about it is that "friends" on Facebook are not always "people we already know" in any traditional sense. Having a "friend" on Facebook can mean having related with that person online without ever having met, or never relating with that person at all. Many Facebookers have "friends" they have never interacted with, let alone talked to or emailed with. So though I value what the nameless TA values—interviewing people we've never met—he seems to me to fail to recognize the changing landscape of social relations as mediated through Facebook.

The other thing this story points to, obviously, is that more and more TAs, Faculty, and other members of the university administration (even campus police) are logging on to Facebook and engaging in surveillance. I'm writing an article about Facebook right now, which is what I should probably get back to ...

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