Facebook admissible evidence

by Beacon Staff • September 12, 2007

Emerson students should reconsider publicizing their illegal dealings - even those on Facebook.com - while living on campus, Emerson disciplinary officials say. Otherwise, they could end up like the two Northeastern University freshmen who were arrested after an undercover police officer overheard them offering drugs to fellow students from their dormitory window on Sept. 2.

At press time, there were 15 freshman-related Facebook.com groups. One of the biggest, "emerson 2011: the freshmen," is a 180- member forum for discussing drugs and drinking with over 500 wall postings. The 23 discussion threads range from where to buy pot in Boston, drugs students are bringing to school and plans to drink in dormitories during orientation week.

Dean of Students Ronald Ludman said incriminating pictures and comments on Facebook.com can be used as evidence in disciplinary hearings, although the College does not yet use the web site to monitor student behavior. He cautioned students against posting anything they wouldn't on a traditional bulletin board, a hallway door or in the student newspaper.

"I don't recall the exact number, but [Facebook] was employed in at least a couple of student conduct cases last year," Ludman said in an e-mail message to The Beacon.

George Noonan, director of Public Safety, said Facebook.com is a legal means for Emerson police to gather information for student conduct reports.

"I can't ever see us running a list of every students name and checking them on the web site but if I get an e-mail or a phone call saying, 'Hey, it would benefit you to go on the computer and look at Facebook' then I will," Noonan said. "If someone posts about running a drug dealership out of their dorm room, we'll follow up on that information and investigate."

Noonan said internet invitations to on-campus parties could be cause for Emerson police to investigate for illegal substances, underage drinking and occupancy violations. He said public safety is considering creating a Facebook.com account.

Leah Ashley Gifford, a freshman writing, literature and publishing major, said the college should not monitor online activity. Gifford created the "emerson 2011: the freshmen" group, which describes its members as "the pot smokers and the beer drinkers, appreciators of indulgences."

"I don't want the administration or professors judging me on one aspect of my life," Gifford said. "I can be professional and successful in academic life and not be punished because of my social life."

Professor Jason Roush posts in the "Emerson College Honors Program 2011" Facebook.com group, sharing information about the program and answering students' questions.

When it comes to students posting about illegal drugs and alcohol, he said he hopes students are more concerned about law enforcement finding the group than school officials. He said it is an issue hard for a college to monitor, but one that must be addressed.

Honors Program Director Nigel Gibson said he found the Honors group after joining Facebook.com in early August to look at a friends wedding pictures and passed the information on to Roush. He said although he didn't look at any of the postings, he was happy to see that incoming Honors students had created a group. Roush said since he had read the posts, he felt it unethical as a staff member to not let the students know he'd seen it.

"I didn't want to be seen as an infiltration or as crashing the party," Roush said. "I don't look at individual student profiles. Some professors, I'm sure, do. Reading what a student has posted, obviously I'm not going to judge them but it does tell me something about that person without knowing them."

Louis Frezza, a freshman visual and media arts major, said he feels online postings by students containing information about drugs or alcohol would be probable cause for a search of the student's dorm.

"The way I see it, anything that one puts on Facebook or a similar social networking site is, effectively, published on the internet. Therefore, this information should logically be available to anyone desiring to access it," said Frezza, a member of the Honors Facebook.com group. "I mean, really, if you don't want people to know about something that you're involved in, then don't put the information out there."