Facebook users beware— the long arms of the law are watching you! The Chicago Tribune (via Siva Vaidhyanathan) reports on an incident that reveals the amazing ways in which participation in social networking exposes students to unforeseen data mining.
In a nutshell, the cops used Facebook to ID a suspected public urinator and bring the pissant to justice. It all started at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign when student Mark Chiles, 22, urinated on a bush in front of a frat house. A cop saw him but the offender ran off before he could be cited. His drinking buddy, Adam Gartner, also 22, was questioned but said he didn't know the miscreant's name. Normally, a cop would give up at this point. But this story has a new digital twist.
The Internet-savvy cop went on Facebook, looked up Gartner's profile and checked out his Facebook friends. Voila! There was the face of the urinator. Chiles got a $145 ticket for public urination to Chiles and a $195 ticket to Gardner for obstructing justice. Ouch. The best part, though, is the students reactions.
"I had no idea that old people were wise to Facebook. I thought they referred to it as a doohickey that kids play with," Gartner said. "I got bone-crushed."
"I was astounded by it," said Chiles, who graduated from the U. of I. in May. "He used it to prove we were good friends. It seems kind of unfair. It is not like Facebook is the most truthful thing there is. If I am going to be brought down, I want to be brought down by something more official than Facebook."
Employers, recruiters and police are increasingly using Facebook and other social networking sites as a resource to investigate people. Universities are including in their freshman orientations warnings to be careful about what students post on their profiles.
Concerned about students publishing damaging information, attorneys at Student Legal Service at the U. of I. plan to start passing out brochures this fall called "MySpace may not be just YOUR space." The brochure lists several things that employers might find questionable: nude photographs, violent images and stories about sexual escapades, drugs and excessive drinking.
"What was once considered a private realm for the younger generation is becoming widely known to the older generation, and most of one's material posted on such sites is visible for all to see," the brochure warns.