On April 15, attorney C.L. Lindsay led a discussion entitled "Free Speech and Facebook" warning students of potential dangers on the Internet and encouraging them to consider the offline equivalents of their online decisions.
The Coalition for Student and Academic Rights is a network of lawyers across the nation who volunteer their time to help college students and professors with legal issues. Although they assist with cases, their mission is to "educate the academic community about the law and their rights" and to prevent problems before they occur, according to their Web site.
In his lecture, Lindsay told students that photographic evidence is rarely used as it tends to be inconclusive. In cases handled on campus, however, there needs to be only a 51 percent confidence level that a photo is accurate for it to be taken into consideration. College officials can use anything posted online to sites like Facebook and use it as evidence. Whether the photos were taken on or off campus may not matter.
He also warned that even with privacy settings, there are loopholes that can allow administrators and employers to access an individual profile.
According to Lindsay, 44 percent of employers and 75 percent of recruiters admit to having looked through the social networking sites of applicants, and 40 percent report having turned candidates down based on these sites. Lindsay suggests this rule: If you wouldn't pass out photos of a party to potential employers, don't post them online.
Lindsay advised avoiding immature usernames and expressing radical political or religious opinions. "Assume that anything you put online will stay there forever," he said. In terms of thinking about offline equivalents of online actions, he said that downloading a movie illegally is exactly the same as walking into a store and stealing a DVD. The Recording Industry Association of America can track online distributors of movies through IP addresses and fine violators.
Although illegal downloading was a problem at Geneseo in years past when the college used to receive two to three letters per month from the RIAA, it now has a "safe box" which disallows most file sharing.
Lindsay also discussed "sexting," which can be especially problematic when a person of age communicates with a minor. Child pornography charges can result.
Even if both parties are over 18, Lindsay encourages students to "think about the recipient now and later," since you could be giving a future ex a weapon to use against you.
Finally, Lindsay stressed the importance of online safety. He suggested avoiding disclosure of your personal address, residence hall and personal information. He said that in the past two years, 90,000 registered sex offenders in the United States were kicked off of MySpace.
Lindsay founded CO-STAR in 1998 when a friend called him to assist in an academic freedom case. He left his job at a New York City firm when he realized how few academic rights experts exist and created the coalition.
Today, the nationwide organization has 500 volunteers and receives between 10,000 and 12,000 requests for help each year. The organization's Web site is Co-star.org.