University staff spy on students via Facebook
Staff at Oxford University have been searching Social networking sites such as Facebook to collect photographs of students who they say have broken rules on post-examination celebrations, and handing out fines!
The student union has branded the move a “disgraceful” intrusion into privacy and has e-mailed every common room advising how to prevent dons viewing the photographs.
Last week the university’s disciplinary officers, the proctors, began e-mailing students whose profiles contained pictures of “trashings”, where students spray each other with champagne, flour or worse, to celebrate finishing their exams.
The move is the latest example of how information posted on social networking websites is used against users. Research suggests that one in five employers is vetting potential recruits on Facebook and similar websites.
Alex Hill, 21, a maths and philosophy student, received an e-mail stating that three of her photos provided evidence that she had engaged in “disorderly” conduct. “I don’t know how the proctors got access to it,” the St Hugh’s College student said. “I thought my privacy settings were such that only students could see my pictures.
“They cited three links to pictures on my Facebook profile where I’ve got shaving foam all over me. They must just do it randomly because it would take hours and hours to go through every profile. I’m outraged. It’s truly bizarre that they’re paying staff to sit and go through Facebook. It must be extremely time-consuming.”
For years the university has tried to rein in the celebrations. Spot-fines of up to £70 were introduced in 2004 for those who were caught, among other offences, “fluid-spraying or egg hurling”, after residents and police complained that the clean-up bill ran into thousands of pounds. However, as The Times reported in June 2004, the fines did nothing to prevent exuberance, and scarce staffing resources meant that only 14 students were caught.
Last year the university raised the idea of allowing students to sit finals in casual clothes, rather than sub fusc, a combination of white bow-tie and dark suit, in the hope that deflating the sense of occasion would prevent the trashings.
Now the proctors have taken their battle online. A spokesman for the university said: “Despite the advice given out before exams, there have been a lot more complaints made and there seems to have been a very high volume of incidents.
“The proctors wish to take the steps available to them to identify and discipline the culprits. Facebook forms part of the evidence that the proctors might use.”
The students are livid that their online world is being gatecrashed. Martin McCluskey, president of Oxford University Student Union, said: “While we do not condone unruly, violent or disorderly behaviour, we believe that the university’s use of private photos from the Facebook site in disciplinary procedures is disgraceful.
“The proctors’ actions are underhand and the fines being imposed are completely disproportionate. Taking action during the summer vacation also makes it even more difficult for people to attend hearings and have their case heard. Many people who have already completed their degrees will be faced with an ultimatum — pay up or we won’t allow you to graduate.”
Those who even consider engaging in unruly behaviour have been warned off. One undergraduate was fined £40 before he had sat his exams; he had set up a Facebook event inviting people to come and trash him.