At risk of starting to obsess about Facebook, but I read this post yesterday about a case of online bullying close to home - the library at my University. A library staff member has been on the receiving end of bullying from a group of students via Facebook. Pretty distressing for him by all accounts. It has been argued that this sort of intimidation would happen through other means, but social networks, IM etc seem to offer an easy means for this behaviour to build up a head of steam.

These are the kind of stories that stick in the collective consiousness. What precautions can we take - if any to minimise misuse of social networks as we develop library spaces in them?

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Comment by Andy Kirk on August 1, 2007 at 6:20am
The comments function isn't great for long urls - maybe this will help. http://tinyurl.com/22564j
Comment by Graham Mallaghan on August 1, 2007 at 6:10am
Sorry about the above, and for the failed link. The end got cut off. Will divide it in two:

http://graham.mallaghan.googlepages.com
/GPMPressStatement25Jul07.pdf
Comment by Andy Kirk on August 1, 2007 at 4:57am
Thanks for adding your comments Graham, I was aware that I may have been perpetuating some reporting inaccuracies - the BBC has as many lazy journalists as the rest of the media.
I naively thought that University students would be above this sort of behaviour - guess I am out of touch, not having worked in a library for a while, certainly since the growth of the social web.

Interesting to note the lack of response from Facebook too. Their terms of use are at http://unikent.facebook.com/terms.php?pwstdfy=4264cc45c231065259c86e3daa9c8e47

I didn't have much joy in trying to open your link btw Graham
Comment by Graham Mallaghan on July 31, 2007 at 12:20pm
And oh yes.
Let me stress the following in case anyone doesn't have time to download my pdf from the link above.

Facebook DID NOT close the group. They told the University of Kent that they did not accept complaints from institutions, only from individual members.

Neither did Facebook respond to my own complaint over this group.

In the end the group was taken down by myself on Tuesday 27th March 2007. The University of Kent did not really understand what they were dealing with and so accepted the word of the students called in to Computing Services that they had closed the group down when all they had really done was put a 'we are now closed' message on the homepage and messaged the members asking them politely to leave. That was on March 23rd, a Friday. As it was an 'open' group any member could become the admin. Another person did this. Between March 23rd and March 27th I printed off the entire content of the group and the entire Facebook profiles of those who had set it up and of the most offensive and provocative posts. I handed these over to Computing and to Library Management, together with a chronology of events and list of interpersonal connections worked out from the above information.

On the afternoon of March 27th the new administrator had his computing account suspended and was summoned to explain himself. I was notified of this and found that he had deleted much of the content of the group, and had quit his membership and administratorship. I was then able to join the group and appoint myself administrator - on open groups this is possible. I then made it a 'closed' group, so that no one else could join without my permission. I then unceremoniously expelled the entire membership (now 225 members compared with 363 on March 23rd) and cancelled the outstanding membership invitations to 81 friends of those who had set it up. I then deleted the remaining content and simply put a 'Big Brother is Watching You' picture on the homepage. I left it like that until early July when I deleted the group completely.
Comment by Graham Mallaghan on July 31, 2007 at 12:06pm
Hi, I am Graham Mallaghan, the Library Assistant and postgraduate research student at the University of Kent who was the target of the offensive Facebook news that has been in the news lately.

The remarks were not only distressing, but also had real-life effects on my job and my studies. During this period I was jeered and taunted at different places on campus, the brakes on my bike were disconnected, and I was tripped up by a student on my way into the library. More details follow:

As I said above, I am a Library Assistant (not a librarian) at the University of Kent at Canterbury and one of my main term-time roles is that of Noise Patrol, which means I am one of a team that enforces library regulations.

The group was set up by students who did not like our efforts to accomplish the above!

As it existed for a month, it made it very difficult for me to do my job, as discipline would collapse into mirth and jeers when I walked into computer rooms, for example, rather than my presence having the calming effect that it did before this group existed. During the period that this group existed - Feb 27th - March 27th this year, generally discipline and behaviour levels in the library went through a marked deterioration not seen in previous years. I also had my photo taken many times during this period and did not understand why. This disrupted the work of diligent and quiet library users.

Also, the group became a place where students could make boasts (true and false) about how they had broken rules, by listing all the food they had brought in, how they had cheeked staff, how they planned to refuse to co-operate if taken to task etc, with the result that some people made it a point of honour to breach regulations.

Also, I am a postgraduate student at the University of Kent currently completing a Masters by Research in Middle English political poetry, my studies were frequently disrupted during this time as people recognised me and noisily pointed me out to friends, or shoved their camera phones in close to my face to snap me.

I have written an account of this incident - as far as my involvement was concerned - as an accurate account for the press following some misreporting. Those who are interested can download it and read it from here:

http://graham.mallaghan.googlepages.com/GPMPressStatement25Jul07.pdf

In short, therefore, this incident made life more difficult for librarians, library assistants, other staff and users of the Templeman Library at the University of Kent for a whole month.

I'm sorry about the length of this post.

The incident may not be that isolated - there is a Facebook group at Warwick University called 'I hate the Library Stewards' which is being monitored by senior staff there due to concerns over its content.
Comment by Andy Kirk on July 26, 2007 at 9:26am
Jill, I think they set up a group aimed at picking on this poor guy, and the comments although pretty juvenile were obviously distressing for him. Anyway the group was reported to Facebook and removed because it contravened their terms of use.

In the education sector this is a real issue as there are cases of young students being bullied in school and things continuing at home via social networks and IM. As we move more into these methods of communication, its something those in schools and colleges need to keep an eye on if they have a duty of care for young students.

Always worth remembering of course that these are the kind of isolated scare stories that the media pick up on

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