2 min read

Authorities Monitoring Online Social Networking Sites

I’ve got to admit, I am becoming a real fan of USA Today. I think it started during my trip to the Olympics, where it was typically the only U.S. English language paper available. They have been doing some great reporting on the tech scene in particular.

Yesterday, they had three separate articles speaking to social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, and orkut.

Two of the articles related directly to how these sorts of sites can affect you in the real world. Here are a couple of stories from the first article (the second article – Alarms sound over athletes’ Facebook time – deals with similar issues within a different context):

  • Admissions dean Paul Marthers at Reed College in Portland, Ore., says the school denied admission this year to one applicant in part because his entries on blogging site LiveJournal included disparaging comments about Reed.
  • An employer who was ready to hire a student from Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center changed his mind after seeing the student’s Facebook page, says Lauri Sybel, director of the college career center. Since then, Sybel says she has checked other students’ pages to make sure they weren’t hurting their job prospects.

Students have been outraged that authorities are observing what they believe to be their personal and private profiles. But if students and others are making them publicly available on the web, then they have nothing to complain about.

I take no issue with what administrators or potential employers are doing – I just wonder how they are going to deal with a whole other set of issues created by a virtual world (“no running in the hallway, err, I mean chatroom”). According to the article, it appears many schools are not necessarily monitoring these sites – rather they are dealing with problems as parents bring it to their attention. Definitely seems strange to have a public school principal deal with a MySpace issue, especially if kids aren’t allowed on a site like that during school time.

In other news, terrorist groups are using sites like orkut to organize around their cause (update: I forgot the link the first time around):

Al-Qaeda sympathizers are using Orkut, a popular, worldwide Internet service owned by Google, to rally support for Osama bin Laden, share videos and Web links promoting terrorism and recruit non-Arabic-speaking Westerners, according to terrorism experts and a survey of the sites.

Google, which operates Orkut, says it tries to balance the free flow of information against the appearance of objectionable material by keeping intervention to a minimum. Google spokeswoman Debbie Frost says the service may remove obscene, defamatory or otherwise objectionable material from Orkut sites “but has no obligation to.” Frost did acknowledge that Google deleted some terrorism-related content that violated Orkut’s published terms of service after USA TODAY inquired about it.

“It is a very fine line to walk sometimes,” says Paul McMasters, a free speech expert at the Freedom Forum in Arlington, Va. “But our tradition under the First Amendment is always: Come down on the side of more speech, not less speech.”

Glad that Google removed some of the terrorist related content and hope they remove it all (wanted to do a search but orkut requires an invite from within the community). I’m enjoying my free speech in a country that allows me to have such freedom. I don’t know about you but I’d prefer Google to come down on the side of promoting freedom and not terrorism. Not only that, the First Amendment doesn’t apply to Al-Qaeda sympathizers if they are located outside the U.S. or are more importantly non-U.S. citizens. If they are located within the U.S., then Google would be powering terrorism on our own soil. Basically, there is no legitimate reason for Google to allow such content on orkut.

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