By Deborah Skousen
Many BYU students had mixed reactions regarding Facebook Inc.”s plan to expand membership eligibility to anyone with an email address.
“I think it is a terrible idea,” said Julie Smith, a senior from Maryland majoring in psychology. “Now I will have to worry about all of the creepy people who sign up.”
Smith said she has decided to close her Facebook account once it is opened up to the public.
There were others who shared similar feelings to Smith”s when asked about the upcoming change.
“I don”t like it [expanding membership],” said Nora Harrison, a graduate from Cornell University whose husband is currently attending law school at BYU. “It is loosening the security network and creating potential harm for current users. There could be crazy people that sign up just to stalk you.”
Ginny Huo, a senior from Chicago majoring in sculpture said she thinks Facebook should have been open to everyone from the beginning.
“I don”t think it is that big of a deal, anyone should be able to use it [Facebook],” she said. “If you are on Facebook, people will have access to your information but that is the choice you make when you sign on.”
Nicole Ellison, an assistant professor at Michigan State University, took a survey of undergraduate Facebook users in June. Of the 286 students who completed the survey, Ellison found that 94 percent were members of Facebook. These students also reported spending between 10 to 30 minutes on average each day using Facebook.
In response to the plan to expand membership, Ellison said she thinks this decision might discourage students who value the exclusivity of the system. She said she thinks there is a potential for students to disclose personal information without realizing that their true audience is not limited to their on-campus friends.
“Be aware that it”s not as exclusive as most people think-it”s fairly easy for law enforcement, future employers, marketing companies, and others to get access to it,” she said. “Give some thought to how you want to present yourself online, knowing that you may have multiple audiences for your profile.”
With over 9.5 million registered users, Facebook is the seventh-most trafficked site on the Internet and the number one photo-sharing site, according to comScore.
After launching the site in February of 2004, Facebook was originally for college students. Currently anyone with a valid email address from a company, supported organization or high school can become a Facebook member, according to the Official Facebook Website.
Facebook Officials said they plan to continue expanding membership and they are still in the process of deciding when to officially open facebook to all regional users.
“We”re doing this because one of the top suggestions we get from our users is, ”make it so that my other friends can get on” but we want to do this in a way that preserves our users” privacy,” said CEO Chris Hughes in a CPNewslink conference.
Extending membership has raised privacy concerns for many Facebook users. But both Hughes and CEO Mark Zuckerberg are certain privacy controls are developed enough that privacy invasion should not be a concern.
Hughes said only the people in your networks will be able to see your profile, and even those people can be limited with your privacy settings.
“I”d disagree that Facebook is becoming more global,” he said. “If you”re a user who just wanted to stay within one network, perhaps your college, you can still do that. On the other hand, for the people who want to be connected with more people, we”re trying to make that possible.”
Detective Wabel, of the Utah County Sex Crimes Task Force, said that in his experience he has seen many sexual offenses that are related to Internet use. When tracking the Internet, Wabel said they capture on average about one predator a week.
“Information that is transferred on the Internet is not always valid,” he said. “There is some concern [with Facebook or MySpace] because predators go where they can get what they want.”
Despite user apprehension, officials of Facebook are certain that extending membership will be safe for users.
“Facebook is a really good tool for understanding what is going on with your friends and the people around you,” Zuckerberg said. “One important thing to keep in mind is that needing to understand what”s going on around you isn”t a college-specific thing. That”s why we have a lot of high school students and alums on the site, and why we”re continually expanding.”