Who’s looking at your Facebook?

University officials and police are checking out students pages for a variety of reasons.

Cottage Grove police ticketed 12 teenagers earlier this month for underage drinking after receiving anonymous tips, relating to a Facebook announcement of the house party they were attending.

In January, 17 high school students in Eden Prairie and Woodbury were disciplined by school officials after Facebook pictures of their drinking escapades came to light.

Many police departments and school administrators around the country have been using Facebook pictures and wall posts to ticket students and levy suspensions. So who’s looking at your Facebook profile?

University police are Ö

The University Police Department occasionally uses Facebook in its investigations, Deputy Chief Steve Johnson said.

University police investigators used Facebook last spring after first-year student Kyle Sharbonno fell to his death from the Oak Street parking ramp, Johnson said.

“The investigators looked up parties and things he was involved in on Facebook,” he said. Now, two older students stand charged with providing the alcohol to Sharbonno that ultimately led to his death.

The department generally uses the Web site as a way to contact someone by finding a home address or another phone number, University Police Lt. Chuck Miner said.

“Other campus departments look for parties going on at their schools,” he said. “That’s not what we use it for at all.”

Facebook has been used at least once, however, to find associates of captured criminals in cases involving more than one suspect, Miner said.

Ö school officials are too Ö

When a student breaks the Student Conduct Code – which covers areas such as scholastic dishonesty, theft and violation of federal or state laws – University police will refer the case to the University’s Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity for further review.

Amy Barsness, assistant director in the office, said the office doesn’t actively look at Facebook profiles to charge students, but it does use the Web site to provide context when talking with students.

“If a student comes into our office and isn’t forthcoming with things, we can look at Facebook and show them that (their profile) isn’t matching up with what they said,” Barsness said.

Because the Student Conduct and Academic Integrity office is for education development, Facebook is generally used to gain insight into the student’s life, she said.

If a student requests a hearing for his or her case to determine if he or she has broken the Student Conduct Code, Facebook pictures could be used, Barsness said.

“There have been no cases that (Facebook pictures) have been used for that I know of,” Barsness said. “They are public information; anyone can see them. So theoretically they could be used.”

Öeven some teachers are.

Finance and marketing sophomore Sveta Gitelzon said she was in a management lecture last semester learning about the Internet as public domain when her teacher surprised students with the last few slides of his PowerPoint presentation.

“As an example, he talked about Facebook and put up pictures from people in the class,” she said.

The teacher had created a Facebook account and copied and pasted pictures of some of his students drinking into his PowerPoint slides.

The students who hadn’t increased their profile’s privacy settings were susceptible to the teacher’s search, Gitelzon said, reinforcing that if a teacher could access the pictures, a prospective employer could feasibly do so as well.

Doug Kampe, an adjunct professor in the Carlson School of Management, said learning experiences like these are great because they aren’t just textbook concepts; they impact the students personally.

“I always tell my students anything that you put online, imagine that you just took out a billboard on Interstate 494 during rush hour, because it’s the same thing,” he said.