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Student’s Petition To Facebook Garners Attention Nationwide

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By Melanie Wanzek The Daily Northwestern

Like many students with profiles on Facebook.com, Weinberg junior Ben Parr decided to use the popular networking Web site to complain. But when he created the group “Students Against Facebook News Feed (Official Petition to Facebook)” to protest a new feature on the site, he didn’t anticipate national media attention.

The “news feed” was added Sept. 5 and gives users minute-by-minute updates on their friends’ actions. Details range from a user adding an interest to a user becoming single.

Parr said he created the group, which included an online petition, because he thought users should be able to turn off the news feed. Almost 730,000 students joined Parr’s group.

“I could never have expected so much attention from one Facebook group,” Parr said. “I’m still getting messages from the media and e-mails from people.”

Parr said he received calls from national news sources, including Time, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Newsweek, and he was also interviewed by CBS.

“Overwhelming is a major understatement,” Parr said of the attention.

Like Parr, students at colleges and universities across the country created similar protest groups, prompting CEO Mark Zuckerberg to post an explanation on Facebook.com and give users more control over information sent out over the news feed. But Parr said he still hopes for more user protection.

“They’ve changed it to have privacy and are adding more,” Parr said. “But I hope they will eventually allow the person to opt out completely from being involved in news feed.”

Parr was contacted personally for an online dialogue with Zuckerberg. Parr said he and Zuckerberg discussed the privacy controls and how to make Facebook better for its users.

With the creation of privacy options, users can now hide many of their actions from News Feed but not all of them. Other friends can still see some actions: if a user joins a group, creates an event or adds profile information. Although Parr said it’s still not ideal, the main protest has ended.

“There are a lot of things that people can still see on news feed,” Parr said. “But (Zuckerberg) apologized and implemented policy features, so the real problem is over and there is no reason for the group to continue growing.”

Eric Parker, a Weinberg junior and group administrator, said he thinks the numbers will begin decreasing but the spirit will not. He said he doesn’t think this will have a negative impact on the site but instead will serve as a warning for users to be careful.

“I do think people will be less inclined to trust Facebook and ask more questions now,” he said.

Some group members are pleased with the changes but still miss the old format. Medill sophomore Tian Huang said she left Parr’s group after receiving Zuckerberg’s letter but would still like to see the original Facebook preserved.

“It’s a lot of clutter,” Huang said. “I feel like they have morphed into something like Myspace instead of just being Facebook, and it’s gotten a little out control.”

Though many students dislike the news feed because of its invasive nature, Huang acknowledged that it has just increased what already existed.

“Mark said in the letter that Facebook is all about linking friends together so they have better communications,” Huang said. “But it’s really about stalking. I hope that the stalking goes back to the old ways – he just made it too easy.”

Reach Melanie Wanzek at m-wanzek@northwestern.edu.

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