From Facebook To a Yearbook, Teens Get a Jolt
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Students at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda opened their yearbooks last month and found pictures they had already seen -- on Facebook, the Internet social-networking site.
In addition to the usual images of blurry hallway traffic, lockers and teens slumped at desks, this year's Walter Johnson Windup included scenes of student life clearly not intended for the yearbook: impromptu snapshots at house parties and random weekend gatherings; portraits taken at arm's length on cellphones; and at least one image of students at what looks like a tailgate party, drinking from telltale red plastic cups.
One student, venting in the school newspaper, said seeing her Facebook pictures in the yearbook was "kind of stalker-y."
Desperate and crunched for time, yearbook staffers resorted to filling pages with photographs downloaded from student Facebook pages. They did it largely without the permission of students and without crediting photographers.
"All the students were like, 'Whoa, that's my picture. I took that,' " said Amanda Horowitz, 15, a rising junior on the yearbook staff who concedes that she, too, published a few pictures from Facebook. "I was rushing, it was last-minute, I thought it was all right."
The episode illustrates how complacent the denizens of Internet vanity sites have become about sharing the artifacts of their private lives, and how, with the click of a mouse, their lives can become very public.
Susannah Green, 17, leafed through the annual and found a picture of her and a friend "just being weird" at a dinner on homecoming weekend. She remembered it well, she said, because "we didn't go to homecoming."
Facebook, with 27 million users, is the sixth-most trafficked Internet site in the United States, according to Facebook spokesman Matt Hicks. It hosts thousands of interconnected networks, including colleges and a burgeoning number of high schools, companies and places.
Hicks offered no comment on the Walter Johnson flap, except to note that "we urge all users to seek permission from users before republishing photos."
Walter Johnson Principal Christopher Garran said future yearbooks will credit every photo. He is also considering asking that yearbook staffers henceforth take a class in basic journalism. Students who work on the school newspaper are quick to point out that they must take the class, which covers ethics and plagiarism.
"I think they may not have thought it was as egregious an error as it actually was," said Lindsay Deutsch, 18, a graduating senior who was one of the newspaper's two editors in chief. "I think what it came down to was lack of time and procrastination. And we all know how that feels."
The yearbook adviser, Dora Golanoski, told students to avoid Facebook and MySpace at the start of the academic year but subsequently went on maternity leave and was replaced by a substitute, according to an account published in the school newspaper, The Pitch.
As the spring publication cycle approached, "a lot of people were missing deadlines," Horowitz said. Downloading pictures from Facebook proved more efficient than roaming campus with a camera. Some students used pictures from their own Facebook pages, while others used images culled from the pages of friends and classmates.
This would not be the first time that Facebook photographs have created problems -- disciplinary action by a school, rejection by a potential employer -- for students who underestimate the risks inherent in publishing compromising pictures on the site.
Yet Walter Johnson students, like many young Internet networkers, post all sorts of content to Facebook, from the inane to the ill-advised. The site allows users to restrict access. Students, to a far greater degree than more computer-challenged parents, trust implicitly that even their most private images will be seen by only a few of Facebook's 54 million prying eyes.
"We grew up with the idea that you can share anything you want with your friends through the Internet," said Amy Hemmati, 16, a rising Walter Johnson junior. "I think we're very trusting in the online community, as opposed to adults, who are on the outside looking in."
"No one's permission was asked," said Green, a rising junior. "I know, because I asked, like, five different people."
"To be honest," Garran said, "they knew they weren't supposed to do it. But they did it. People make mistakes. You learn from your mistakes. Live and learn."