Early last summer, first-year Jessica Song created a group on Facebook called "First Night Party!!" She got the idea from friends who had made a similar group at another college and thought that it would be fun to make one for the Bowdoin network.

To Song's surprise, her new classmates, whom she had never met, began joining the group in droves. Before long, "First Night Party!!" had over 100 members in the Class of 2010. A number of them were also posting on the group's message board.

When she arrived on campus this fall, Song said that students recognized her as the group's creator. At a dorm meeting during Orientation, the proctors in Winthrop Hall teased her about the group.

"I didn't think that it would turn into such a big deal," she said.

The same might be said of Facebook itself. Since it was launched two years ago, Facebook has turned into a very big deal. This week, Time Magazine reported that the social networking web site is the seventh-most highly trafficked U.S. web site, with over 8 million users nationwide, including many Bowdoin students and alumni.

But students aren't the only members of the Bowdoin community who are using the web site.

Forty-nine Bowdoin staff members have Facebook accounts, including Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs Margaret Hazlett, Dean of First-Year Students Mary Pat McMahon, Assistant Director of Security Mike Brown, Director of Residential Life Kim Pacelli, and Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Scott Hood.

But unlike most Facebook users, almost none of these Bowdoin staffers have included personal information in their user profiles beyond their names and email addresses, which the web site requires all members to post.

Personal information fields such as activities, interests, favorite music, favorite TV shows, favorite movies, favorite books, favorite quotes, work information, and educational background, as well as the spaces where most users post photographs and "about me" essays, are left blank. Nearly all staffers have declined to join groups, accumulate "friends," post messages, or engage in any other common activities available to users.

Hazlett, who said she has not logged on to the site since last year, cited curiosity as the factor that motivated her to create an account with Facebook.

"I heard a lot about it from students and colleagues, so I went on to check it out," she said.

Other staffers have used the popular web site for purposes relating to their official responsibilities to the College. When Security was investigating an assault that occurred on campus during the 2004-2005 year, Brown, who headed the investigation, used Facebook to help him crack the case.

Witnesses to the assault had provided Security with a consistent, detailed description of the assailant, but the investigators had been unable to make a positive identification. That was when Brown received a tip from a student who, Brown said, told him, "I'm no rat, but if you look on the Facebook, you'll find the guy."

Brown created a Facebook account and searched the Bowdoin network for students who fit the description given by the witnesses. During the student's Judicial Board hearing, photographs printed from the student's Facebook profile were presented as evidence of the student's involvement in the assault.

Brown also mentioned that he attempted unsuccessfully to use Facebook in connection with another investigation last spring.

For other staffers, Facebook has proven an adversary. When incoming first years started posting each other's housing assignments on the web site, McMahon sent an email to the Class of 2010 telling them not to post any student's housing information without obtaining that student's permission to do so.

Hazlett mentioned that rumors and misinformation about housing assignments and course registration caused a number of concerned students and parents to call the deans' offices this past summer.

The administrators interviewed by the Orient emphasized that they only use Facebook in response to specific concerns that are brought to their attention, and not as a tool for exposing policy violations.

"We're not surfing for stuff," Hazlett said, "but if it's brought to our attention we will respond."

But officials at other colleges have taken a more proactive approach. At a conference held by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), McMahon and Pacelli said that a number of their colleagues advocated using Facebook as an administrative resource.

"We're much more concerned about people's health and safety," said McMahon.

College Physician and Director of Health Services Dr. Jeff Benson, who does not use Facebook, said he wouldn't be opposed to using the web site to research a student if he were motivated by specific health concerns.

"My understanding is that it contains public information...that...was intended to be accessible. In that spirit, I would feel free to access a Facebook profile if I thought it would prove helpful to that student's care," he wrote in an email to the Orient.

Public domain

As the widespread accessibility of information and photographs posted on Facebook has been a topic of national discussion, certain Bowdoin departments this summer sought to increase students' wariness about what they make public.

In early August, Anne Shields, director of the Career Planning Center (CPC), sent an email to students warning them to be careful about the image that their Facebook profiles project to future employers.

"I need to let you know that there is merit to the stories in the public media about employers and graduate programs Googling prospective candidates," the email read.

"Although Facebook, MySpace, and similar sites promise limited access, you need to know that your text and photos are not as confidential as you may think (or hope)," Shields continued.

Pacelli said that she has talked to dorm proctors and resident assistants (RAs) about how their Facebook profiles might appear to the students to whom they are meant to serve as role models.

On Tuesday, Facebook launched a controversial new feature called "news feed," which records the individual actions of each user and announces them on the home page of every one of that user's friends.

Facebook also introduced "mini-feed," a chronology of each user's actions that is visible to everyone who visits his profile.

Users have revolted to what they feel has become excessive information trafficking on behalf of Facebook. Many Bowdoin students have joined groups that oppose the feed such as "Save Facebook," "I Want the Old Facebook Back," and "Facebook just crossed that MySpace stalking line with News Feed."

One group, "Students Against Facebook News Feed," has already acquired over 700,000 members, and includes a link to a petition requesting that the feature be removed. The criticism from users has been so strong that Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded in an entry on the site's web log, but did not announce any plans to withdraw the news feed.

"The news feed makes Facebook a stalker haven," said DeRay Mckesson '07.

"In the days of old-school Facebook, I didn't sit and count how many photos you recently tagged of yourself, I didn't check how many people's walls you wrote on that day, I didn't know down to the minute how long your relationship lasted," said Chandra Cruz-Thomson '09. "Frankly, that's none of my business."

"It creeps the hell out of me," said Will Hales '08.

College administrators like Hazlett may regard this sudden alarm as overdue.

"We value students' desire to share information and ideas, but I don't think [posting too much information] is very wise, because it is public domain," she said.