By Alia Wilson
Networking possibilities on the Internet have opened students up to unimaginable feats in communication. Students are able to share information about their day-to-day endeavors on a global basis. The riveting topics include classes they are crashing, people they are dating, and what they are drinking-legally or otherwise.
Social networks such as The Facebook, created by then-Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, do not penalize students if they post incriminating material, such as images most commonly depicting underage drinking and pot smoking. However, student athletes have been the ones to take the heat for posting photos that, when discovered, can cause them to face serious consequences.
UC Santa Cruz swim coach Kim Musch says some universities hire people full-time to monitor photographs of their athletes posted on social networking sites. In extreme cases, large portions of athletic teams can be disqualified because of the photographs posted online.
Ever since the creation of Facebook, Musch has instructed his athletes not to post anything questionable on the website.
"Don’t put anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see," Musch said. "If you are putting it on Facebook, you are putting it out for the world to see."
Musch has not experienced any serious problems with his athletes but continues to be cautious. His caution is shared with coaches at other universities across the country who worry about the welfare of their teams.
Ashley Armstrong, Life Skills and Championships Coordinator of UCLA, said that students and student athletes are told about the potential dangers of online networking as soon as they enter the university.
"We give all student athletes social networking guidelines that are discussed with the coaches," Armstrong said. "Information about what they need to be conscious of can be found in our handbook that we include in orientation."
However, as Facebook has introduced new privacy settings, users may feel immune to such scrutiny.
Carolyn Abram, a Facebook spokesperson, assures that the users of the website have complete control over privacy settings and can change them to block any problems that arise as the website continues to expand.
"There are also specific search privacy settings, many of which we added recently with our expansion," Abram told City on a Hill Press (CHP) via email. "You can choose what types of network affiliations are permitted to search for your name."
But even with such privacy settings, there is always the possibility of someone searching the system to find scandalous information. Badjocks.com is a website designed specifically to hunt for misbehaving student athletes, claiming to be "Cops meets Sportscenter." The site’s homepage warns, "Badjock behavior destroys careers, ruins reputations, and ends lives."
Exposure on sites like Badjocks.com has led David Ortega, the compliance director at UC Berkeley, to take extra care in protecting his athletes.
"We have people within our offices looking to make sure we know what’s going on," Ortega said. "When [Facebook] first came out we started taking a look at it, and the kids asked us to be on there. If we saw any problems we asked [student athletes] if that’s how they want to be represented and they’d take it down."
But even at UCSC, some students get caught through Facebook. One UCSC athlete felt that her own coach invaded her privacy by allegedly looking at photos of a raucous spring break.
"We basically got drunk every night and had pictures of it on Facebook, but it wasn’t during the season," the student athlete said.After vacation some women on the team had to compete, but when they did poorly the coach got on their cases.
"He must have looked on Facebook at those pictures because there is no other way he could have known about our trip," she said.Melissa Stevens, a third-year history major, says that students’ constant use of websites like Facebook results in occasional slip-ups where they publicize illegal exploits.
"We cannot go a day without checking our messages, our wall, our friend’s status updates or seeing if anyone has posted new photos," Stevens said.
Even though student athletes risk getting in trouble by posting incriminating photos, many have not stopped using the site, but have become more sensitive to what they post.
Others choose not to use Facebook for a variety of reasons, including that it is too addictive, too invasive, or that it is just too trendy.
"The only reason Facebook and MySpace exist is to create drama among your friends and letting the entire world watch," said Thom Gerdes, a fourth-year computer engineering major. "That and stalking people you don’t know."
Gerdes suggests Flickr.com or Deviantart.com as alternatives for websites where people can post pictures. In sites like this, users can post photographic art in a community that requires little identification of its users.
However, the issue of student athletes posting inappropriate photographs remains.
Ashely Armstrong of UCLA’s Athletic Department, says that it is up to students to control their privacy. She urges that student athletes and students to take general caution when joining online social networks especially as they continue to grow, as they can have negative impacts if abused.
"It’s unfortunate that younger folks don’t understand that what they post could impact not only their teams but their families," Armstrong said. "All it takes is one picture that includes a red cup."