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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Staving off cyber stalking

Gloria Gadsden, a sociology professor at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania was suspended for comments made on her Facebook page. As social networking sites grow in popularity, more businesses are disciplining and firing employees because of online content. Instead of overreacting to off-color remarks made outside of work, employers need to stop invading employees’ personal lives.
Sites like Facebook and MySpace are well-known even to those technologically illiterate. Content placed online, especially on networking sites, is accessible to almost anyone. Gadsden believed her Facebook status would remain private, and despite having no student listed as a friend, a pupil reported her to university officials.
In the wake of the tragic shootings at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, officials were less than thrilled to read the professor’s update asking her friends and family where she could find a discreet hitman after a long day.
A month later, Gadsden’s status again barely alluded to violence, reading “had a good day today. DIDN’T want to kill even one student :-).”
Although smiley face emoticons often betray an unstable mind, Gadsden’s comments did not require a disciplinary reaction. Everyone with a career in academia has felt a murderous urge toward college students, usually more than once a month. Gadsden’s mistake was venting in what is a very public arena.
As the Internet becomes more imbedded in our lives, privacy or anonymity can no longer be expected on the World Wide Web. Employees have to censor what’s written in the confines of their home, in what was the domain of their personal life. In an arena that should be reserved for relaxation, people are forced to be paranoid about the wrong person reading what they’ve written. As the Internet is used more and more for communication, employers monitoring online activity threatens free speech.
Already a South Florida teenager is suing her former principal after a suspension based on a Facebook page titled “Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I’ve ever had.” Katherine Evans invited former and current students of Phelps to comment on her page after a series of minor altercations in class. The responses varied in the few days Evans kept the page up, but two months later, Evans was suspended for cyber bullying Phelps. The American Civil Liberties Union has supported Evans right to freedom of speech, including the Internet in the application of First Amendment rights.
“In today’s world, very little is private anymore,” said Tomas Reta, a freshman general studies major. “Even though your private and personal life should be separate, it’s often not. You have to watch what you say and do.”
But worse than the loss of privacy is the subjectivity businesses can employ while cyber-snooping. Gadsden believes her suspension was in response to an essay she wrote criticizing universities for not doing enough to retain minority faculty. Employers have no obligation to search through sites for unflattering words, and there is an inherent unfairness in deciding whose personal life to intrude in. At one point in their life, everyone has contributed something they regret to the Internet. The effort put into finding yours can easily be based on favoritism.
Consideration needs to be put into the photos and posting put online, but employers need to stop using the Internet to cyber-stalk employees. As long as the content is not potentially damaging to the company, social networking sites should remain none of the office’s business. Employees are entitled to express themselves outside of work without worrying who might be looking.
No one should expect the information they put on the Internet to be private, but employees and students have the right to a personal life. Social networking sites have become imbedded in our culture, and should not be used to keep Orwellian tabs on activities away from work. As more interaction takes place online, the freedom of speech on the Internet needs to be defended.
Ian McPhail is a junior history major and voices editor.

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