Cornell studies Facebook phenomenon

Voicing sounds of disapproval, a task force considers how to develop a 'clear and consistent' policy towards use of social networking.

The exact impact of social networking services like Facebook and MySpace on campus life is uncertain, but a panel at Cornell University aims to find out, reports the Ithacan Online.

The Facebook Task Force - a committee of faculty members, administrators and students - is studying the Facebook phenomenon and its impact on life at Cornell, with an eye towards determining a protocol on safety and security.

"It's very hard not to pick up a Chronicle of Higher Education or one of our professional publications without the issue of MySpace and Facebook popping up," said Brian McAree, vice president of student affairs and campus life. "It's a phenomenon all over the country and obviously as students use it, more questions naturally get raised for colleges and universities as to how they should be responding."

The task formed was formed not because of any specific incident, but because of its growing import on campus life.

"One of the things we have seen over the past couple of years is when room assignments go out in the summer, students go to see who their roommate is on Facebook," said McAree. "Then all of a sudden they may conclude that they are not going to be comfortable with this person as a roommate, and so they call up Residential Life."

There are a number of issues at stake. One is whether the university should be checking on Facebook to check for violations of the student conduct code or the law. The other is whether the university is accountable for illegal activities found on the site.

"The question that we are posing to ourselves is should we be on Facebook on a regular basis," said McAree. "To be honest, I don't think we have the time or personnel to do that."

One of the task force's goals is to develop educational materials to make students aware of the potential impact of representing themselves online.

"Students are so far ahead of us on the use of these sites. We want to be clear and consistent across campus in how we are going to utilize or not utilize these sites in what we do," said task force chair Doreen Hettich-Atkins.

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