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Monday, September 10, 2007

"It would be weird if all your professors had Facebook"

I find social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace fascinating.  Perhaps it is simply that my own reluctance to embrace the on-line exhibitionism involved in these kinds of sites reminds me of the generational divide separating me from my (current or future) students.  On a mildly more academic level, I've suggested that the NCAA needed to come up with a policy for such activity by college athletes (although it has issued warnings on the matter, it has no official policy). 

I think it's generally also good advice for law school career counselors to warn students that if they don't want a hiring partner to see it, it probably shouldn't be up on the web (check out the Suffolk's career office's warning -- under the title "*Attention Myspace and Facebook.com Users*"-- on their web site here, or Michigan's warning, suggesting diligent self-Googling, here).

I'm also intrigued that at least some universities and professors are starting to use these sites to to communicate with their student bodies.  Under the headline "E-mail is for old people," the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story last year which suggested that universities could leverage student interest and participation in social networking sites to improve communication between faculty, administrators, and students.  Should law schools join the club?

According to the Chronicle story,

College officials around the country find that a growing number of students are missing important messages about deadlines, class cancellations, and events sent to them by e-mail because, well, the messages are sent to them by e-mail.

Students seem to prefer Facebook and Myspace to "traditional" forms of communication like e-mail.  Colleges setting up social networking pages have used them to communicate with students, posting notices about important events and deadlines.  One administrator who had helped set up a college Myspace page described using Myspace is similar to "being able to walk into a residence hall and everybody's door is open."  Not everyone is convinced:  some students fear that identifying a university as your Myspace "friend" might be "lame"; others worry about the "weird[ness]" associated with professorial efforts at social networking.

Some law professors have involuntary Facebook affiliations, like Paul Secunda described in his amusing post last year.  Others, particularly those with extracurricular activities involving works of fiction, have Myspace pages to promote their novels.  And of course, how can one forget the myspace page of the Sadistic Law Professor? [UPDATE: Richard Bales of the Workplace Prof Blog had a post on this two weeks ago, which describes his own efforts to construct "professional" social networking sites].

Still, in a quick search, I could only find three law schools with (unofficial?) Myspace groups: Pacific-McGeorge, Florida International, and West Virginia (of the three, McGeorge's seems the most official, in that it has a bio of the school on the front page). Facebook requires membership in order to search for groups or pages, but using a hi-jacked password I found a bunch of student groups at individual law schools, but couldn't come up with any organizational pages.

There are some obvious downsides apart from "lame"-ness.  Someone at a law school would obviously have to figure out how to use these sites and then build one.  The site would have to be regularly monitored to keep things clean and avoid offensiveness (although I understand one can limit the ability of others to post message's on a hosted site).  It may also be that features of TWEN sites or internal sites hosted by schools and universities already serve the functions of the social networking sites, at least on an internal level.

Posted by Geoffrey Rapp on September 10, 2007 at 01:55 PM | Permalink

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Comments

One law prof at FSU started class the first day by making all the students read their Facebook profiles out loud.

...the girls whose hobby was "being slutty" was particularly embarrassed...

Posted by: Chris Bell | Sep 10, 2007 7:37:49 PM

I'm actually working on a research project about law student participation in on-line social networking -- focusing both on how students use sites like Facebook and on how students present themselves on such sites. I'd be very interested in any thoughts, anecdotes, etc., that PrawfsBlawg readers wish to share.

Posted by: eric | Sep 10, 2007 9:25:27 PM

I posted on this very topic here:

http://lawandletters.blogspot.com/2007/08/facebook-social-network-theory-and.html

Posted by: Belle Lettre | Sep 11, 2007 12:53:06 AM

I've thought pretty extensively about this topic, and wonder if one day Facebook might replace SSRN. Has anyone ever used the Thinkfree Docs application on Facebook? (See this blogpost about it, if you're interested: http://blog.thinkfree.com/2007/08/03/thinkfree-docs-on-facebook/)

I think the opportunities for collaboration are greater through this program than through SSRN, but I don't claim to know that much about SSRN (I know some others on this blog do). It seems this might be a suitable synergy, though. If I could know from looking at someone's Facebook page not only what papers they've posted, but also what their research interests are, generally, and perhaps some other connections I might share with them, I might be more likely to contact them with comments and/or cite their work.

Posted by: Liz Glazer | Sep 11, 2007 10:32:07 AM

I recently tried out Facebook as a means to get in touch with ex classmates from various eras of my past, for which I have found it quite useful. I never used MySpace, but it seems to me that Facebook users have little to fear from having their profiles viewed by prospective employers. You have to designate someone as a friend before they can see anything but your name listing and photo, and even then you can control exactly what they see and don't see. If anything, the privacy controls seems so extensive that they can frustrate efforts to search for people you know, since there's often no way to distinguish between a list of identical names without seeing the private info. Am I missing something here?

Posted by: Chris Newman | Sep 11, 2007 5:35:58 PM

"I never used MySpace, but it seems to me that Facebook users have little to fear from having their profiles viewed by prospective employers. You have to designate someone as a friend before they can see anything but your name listing and photo, and even then you can control exactly what they see and don't see."

Unless something has changed recently, that's not the default privacy setting. By default, people in your school network (determined by your .edu email address) can see everything unless you proactively decide otherwise. Also, anyone can access a particular picture if they have the direct URL for the photo.

Posted by: Anthony | Sep 11, 2007 6:38:13 PM

Myspace is for idiots. Facebook is for children. Real people have individual web pages on private domains that come up as the very first hit when you google their names.

If you don't own the page that comes up first when somebody googles you, you suck at teh internet.

Posted by: tekel | Sep 11, 2007 9:57:25 PM

Dean Schill, Dean Cheadle and other staff at UCLA School of Law have facebook pages.

Posted by: bruin | Sep 11, 2007 10:54:10 PM

Dean Schill, Dean Cheadle and other staff at UCLA School of Law have facebook pages.

Posted by: bruin | Sep 11, 2007 10:54:28 PM

At American (WCL), each 1L doctrinal section is encouraged to set up a listserve. Out of the 5 sections (4 if you only count day students), Sections 1, 2, and 3 have facebook groups averaging around 50% of the section.

It's not official, per se, (for instance, I'm the creator of the WCL 2010 section 1 group), but since we were told to set up a listserve somehow, we figured this was the best way.

It's worked well so far for coordinating bar nights, weekends, study groups, "whos going to the library when" etc.

Posted by: swatjester | Sep 12, 2007 4:09:35 PM

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