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Online social networking and the issues of opening of individuals in social networks

University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy Corresponding author. Abstract Online social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are extremely popular as indicated by the numbers of members and visits to the sites.

They allow students to connect with users with similar interests, build and maintain relationships with friends, and feel more connected with their campus. The foremost criticisms of online social networking are that students may open themselves to public scrutiny of their online personas and risk physical safety by revealing excessive personal information.

This review outlines issues of online social networking in higher education by drawing upon articles in both the lay press and academic publications. One such change is the prominence that social networking web sites currently enjoy, especially among the younger generations.

Among other things, social networking sites allow members to post personal information and photos, communicate with each other, and connect to users with similar interests, all within an online environment. Generally speaking, online social networking allows for individuals to remain in relatively close social contact with others through the use of these web sites.

Although there has been a plethora of newspaper and magazine articles confronting the many issues of online social networking, actual scholarly research is sparse. This review synthesizes the lay press reports on online social networking and couples that with the existing academic literature to identify key questions that pharmacy educators need to address.

MySpace is the membership leader among social networking sites, but Facebook is adding a reported 100,000 new users per day. Facebook Features Facebook and other online social networking sites require users to register themselves online and create a personal profile. A valid e-mail address is the only requirement to join Facebook.

Online Social Networking Issues Within Academia and Pharmacy Education

Valid school e-mail addresses are required to join a specific school network. Users can search for anyone on Facebook and view the user's photo, but by default can only see profiles and photo albums of other users in their own network. Facebook also has a set of optional privacy features which allow the user to restrict access to portions of their profile.

Private Information in Public Spaces Social networking sites such as Facebook are mediated public sites ie, places in which mediating technology allow people to gather publicly.

Persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisible audiences are 4 unique properties of mediated publics.

Furthermore, individuals conversing on social network sites imagine their audience and speak to the generally accepted norms of that audience.

Do online social media cut through the constraints that limit the size of offline social networks?

What they may not understand is that there may be multiple audiences, including those with some type of power or authority over them.

Those other audiences may hold completely different views on what is socially acceptable. Helping students connect and stay in contact with old and new friends is touted as one of the significant benefits of Facebook. Making connections on campus which help them feel that they belong may be an important factor in student retention. These capabilities along with the many facets of communicating with their friends make social networking sites very appealing. Controversy surrounds the use of these sites, specifically in terms of privacy, safety, and attitudes toward revealing personal information to the world.

Most of the press concerning these sites has been negative in focus. Newspapers and magazines related to higher education are replete with cases of college students who experienced negative repercussions from questionable activities that were made public online. Students have been suspended or expelled from respective universities for threats of crime 27 and for racially insensitive remarks posted on Facebook. A university president encountered substantial criticism from a photo at an annual Halloween party that was placed on a student's Facebook account.

Students have been harassed and stalked 1825 and have encountered uninvited strangers at home. Vast disclosure of photographs, political views, sexual orientation, etc, by students warrants further discussion of identity information protection on higher education campuses. Educating students about the risks associated with social networking services was introduced by Educause as a new item in its Current Issues Survey, which addresses the critical information technology issues of 1785 higher education institutions.

  • Major limitations of this study include the low response rate 6;
  • This review outlines issues of online social networking in higher education by drawing upon articles in both the lay press and academic publications;
  • A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies;
  • Recently, Chou and Edge published an article about the potential impact of using Facebook on students' perceptions of others' lives.

The number of institutions in which the athletics department has developed policies regarding social networking profiles is growing. Colleges are facing increasing pressure and possible litigation in proving they have done enough to protect students from drug abuse, suicide, etc.

In the legal sense, this heightens the responsibility of the school to prevent harm and increases the likelihood of lawsuits. However, Facebook users would generally have difficulty proving the inherent assumption that material posted to a publicly accessible site was intended and expected to be private.


No literature exists concerning online social networking and pharmacy education. However, there have been a few research studies that address some of the pertinent questions in this area. The study found age was a significant predictor of Facebook membership. The mean age of nonmembers was 30 years versus a mean age of 21 years for members. Undergraduate students were also more likely to have accounts than non-undergraduate students.

Among non-undergraduate students, privacy concerns were significant in predicting non-membership.

Online Social Networking and Mental Health

One of the major findings was that members' privacy concerns did not necessarily coincide with their behaviors on Facebook. No significant difference emerged when the researchers compared responses concerning the perceived privacy threat of supplying personal information and the actual listing of private information such as birthday, sexual orientation, partner's name, and cell phone number.

One limitation of this survey was that it was administered to students at only one institution. The researchers did not include any information concerning survey validation. The researchers concluded that Facebook users are primarily unaware or unconcerned with limiting access to private information on their profiles.

After filtering out those who were unaware of Facebook, 1784 student responses and 53 employer responses remained. Major limitations of this study include the low response rate 6. The researchers concluded that students and employers view the use of Facebook differently and that students should exercise caution and use privacy restrictions when posting. Reasons given for opinions against faculty Facebook participation included privacy issues in written comments, unfair perceptions of students in a social environment, and Facebook as a venue for social interactions free from faculty judgment.

One of the conclusions the researchers drew from the analysis was that Facebook usage is not relegated to leisure time, but rather part of natural social interaction that is intertwined with other school-related activities within a week. There was a significant relationship between heavy Facebook usage and lower grade point averages GPAs.

However, frequent Facebook visitors also reported a much closer connectedness to their school than those who accessed the service less frequently. The researcher concluded that although heavy Facebook usage is correlated with lower GPAs, this same usage helps build and maintain social connections and creates a connectedness with the campus. The study was limited to students living in on-campus housing at institutions listed in the Carnegie Classifications and who had access to university e-mail accounts during the survey period.

Researchers at Michigan State University utilized survey research to gain greater understanding of the relationship between social networking sites and college life and socialization. Age and year in school were significant predictors of membership, with younger students and undergraduate students more likely to belong to Facebook.

Online Social Networks and Media

Higher intensity Facebook usage significantly predicted higher bridging social capital, higher bonding social capital, and high school social capital. The researchers concluded that Facebook usage helped students maintain and strengthen relationships and build social capital. Limitations to the study included that it was conducted in only one college community. The low numbers of non-members prevented any analysis of the effects of Facebook. Watson, Smith, and Driver 50 conducted an analysis of Facebook central profile photos of 150 random students across 50 states to determine to what extent alcohol usage was portrayed in Facebook photos.

The researchers concluded that the media reports of alcohol prevalence in Facebook photos were over exaggerated because only 9. Limitations included the researchers' inability to access in-depth demographic information of students outside their home university, which prevented them from determining how many of those students were not of legal drinking age. This could potentially have revealed much higher incidences of alcohol use among students.

While Facebook usage seemingly allows for students to build, strengthen, and maintain social capital with other users, a potential downside of usage exists that many are unaware of or choose to ignore. While the bulk of the literature in both the lay and scholarly press focus on undergraduate students, many of these major issues related to online social networking sites could apply to pharmacy students. Issues of trust, risk, copyright, liability, and privacy may be as important as understanding how the Web works….

Protecting one's personal identity for the sake of safety and privacy should be of importance to all students. Projecting an online persona that is characteristic of a young professional has the potential to affect both academic and professional careers. Should actions in the cyber arena on personal time be left alone? To many colleges, administrators, and faculty members, the disturbing point is the disconnect that many students have in thought and attitude regarding the nature of online communications.

Gardner 52 states that it is our responsibility as educators to provide a curriculum that addresses the needs of students in order to prepare them for the future workplace. Should this be our concern? Where does professional life end and student life begin?

Should it be of interest to a pharmacy school if a student posts material depicting unprofessional attitudes or behavior away from school that is viewable by members of the school, patients, or other healthcare providers? These e-professionalism principles apply not only to online social networking, but also to e-mail, personal web pages, Internet discussion groups and a variety of other electronic venues in which professionals and aspiring professionals may have a presence.

No research has been published on the extent to which pharmacy students use social networking sites, nor the types of private information that they reveal. Do social networking sites such as Facebook permeate the educational and professional lives of the Millennial generation of pharmacy students? From a generational standpoint, Millennial students have grown up with technology and it is viewed as a natural part of the environment. From a philosophical standpoint, what circumstances, if any, warrant a school's use of information contained within a student's online social networking profile?

These same sites, however, also pose a danger to students' privacy, safety, and professional reputations if proper precautions are not taken. Colleges and schools of pharmacy would be advised to consider how these issues might affect their students. At a minimum, schools should take appropriate steps to educate students about these matters. Research is needed on professional students' usage and attitudes toward online social networking sites.

Monitoring and usage of these sites by institutions venture into legal grey areas concerning the Fourth Amendment, the right to privacy, and duty of care, and should be approached with caution. Further research is needed on how best to address the issues surrounding online social networking. Frank Romanelli for conversations and critiques that helped shape this manuscript. In addition, the author thanks Ms. Lindsay Rosenbeck and Ms. Kristin Elliott for their commentary on the manuscript from the perspective of a student.

Spatially bounded online social networks and social capital: The role of Online social networking and the issues of opening of individuals in social networks. Educause Learning Initiative; 2006. Accessed May 25, 2007. Facebook opens its pages as a way to fuel growth. Accessed May 28, 2007. Educause Learning Initiative; 2007.