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Group invite: "I'm accountable for things I say on Facebook!"

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Browsing through Fark.com the other day, I came upon an interesting article about students who had faced criticism at the University of Mississippi after creating a group on Facebook. The group proclaimed that members all wished to have sex with a certain professor.

The article, from insidehighered.com, went on to describe several incidents in which the university or members thereof took action when they saw what groups were being created on Facebook. Some posts at the end of the article argued that the colleges were asking students to ?conform? by telling them to be careful about what they said online. Others argued it was simply a matter of being accountable and responsible.

But the thing that struck me most about the article was a single comment from a student at Columbia University. She created the group titled ?We like to have hott [sic] sex in Butler [Library] and then get coffee from Blue Java.?

?Facebook is supposed to be... irreverent,? the story quoted her as saying. ?I?d be mortified if someone seriously asked me if I liked to have sex in Butler and then get coffee from Blue Java.?

I do not want to address the issue of whether or not students should be extra-diligent about their ?digital profiles,? as some sources in the article suggested. What I want to address is the simple issue of accountability. Can you honestly expect to announce your name beside a statement and then deny accountability for it?

How can this Columbia student believe that her words are meaningless on Facebook? How can she assert that they should not be used to judge her actual desire to have sex in the school library at all?

I concede, Facebook is wide open for humor. I?m not asking to take the groups we belong to literally. I don?t actually want Optimus Prime to be President, but I could easily back up why I joined the group. (Optimus Prime as a candidate for anything is a running joke that?s campus-wide; the facetious nature is clear to Carnegie Mellon students.)

Students are out there putting their name beside statements that they actually would be ?mortified? to be called out on. It?s a simple issue of say what you mean and be able to explain it. People might not actually want to have sex in the school library, but they shouldn?t assume no one takes their words seriously. I wouldn?t join the ?I love to rub hot oil on my body? group because God knows I?ve never done it! If I did join the group I?d sure as hell want to back up why I joined. I would expect people to treat me as something of an authority on the matter.

Learn the obvious, students and posters across the Web. If you put your name next to something, some people will take your support at face value. Deny it as a joke all you wish, but don?t say you didn?t expect people to interpret parts of your character from it. You ought to be able to defend what you put your name on.

Even on a facetious, fluffy site like Facebook, I would hope that people do understand that the information they report is at the very least accessible to others at their college. People understand that wit plays a role in a lot of Facebook groups, but they may also expect you to account for why you joined them. I think we?ve reached the stage where it is no longer a good excuse to say, ?I joined this group because my friend was in it, even though I didn?t agree with what it said.?

Facebook is a forum for fun, silliness, and meaningless friendships. But it also is about real people. Your name, your dorm, your school, and your major are all listed on Facebook. You wouldn?t list those things inaccurately, so why would you put your name on something that you disagree with? Why join ?I Want to Bang Professor Studly? if you don?t actually want to follow through? Maybe you just joined it for kicks. Fine, but once you?ve joined it, please don?t have the audacity to say you?re actually offended when I think you want to bang him.