Editorial: To protect students, UCR Hookups must pull out of Facebook

Courtesy of Facebook
Courtesy of Facebook

The secret is out. Or at least, everybody’s sex secrets are.

Thanks to UCR Hookups, a Facebook page that allows people to anonymously submit their private sexual escapades and voyeuristic yearnings, everybody is getting a first-hand look into the details of the UCR community’s sex lives.

The stated purpose of the group is to be “a place to post your sexcapades, or any potential interests you may have regarding a certain someone!”—and boy does it succeed. The group started on Feb. 8, and in a mere two weeks’ time, a lucrative 600 posts have piled up on the page (as of the time of writing), with an undoubtedly greater number being submitted.

“There’s this skater that skates the bell tower[…] He is the hotest [sic] thing that’s ever walked this earth,” one poster begins. Another writes, “So last night I was with a girl that was just super horny and showed up at a party so I took her up to the deck where we had sex.”

We understand the desire to share sexual adventures with others; it’s something that humans have done for a long time now. And it is incredibly entertaining to peruse some of the funny encounters students have had at UCR.

But as people read through the towers of sex stories and hookup requests, there is one thing that must always be kept in mind: these are real people, who are affected in real life by the stories posted here. There are huge privacy problems present in being identified in one of these stories, and UCR Hookups doesn’t ensure that people’s rights to their own privacy are protected.

It’s true that the posting process is done through an anonymous survey via Google. And submissions that include people’s full names are screened out by the operator of the Facebook page.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that privacy is ensured. Most obviously, people can still identify a person using only a first or a last name. This is especially true if it is partnered with secondary descriptions, like “that girl who sits in the front row in anthro 1” or “Javier who lives in A&I.” Soon enough it becomes clear to everybody who exactly is being talked about.

And if that process takes too long, there are always the helpful people on Facebook who tag the posts with people’s full names. This provides a direct link to a Facebook account and ensures the 1 billion people on Facebook know exactly whose sexual adventures are being talked about. Is this really private?

This can also lead to situations where the person talked about in the post and the person tagged are actually two different people. Based on the identifying characteristics, people on Facebook make their best guess, but they’re bound to slip up sometimes. Then the person tagged has to deal with the reputation of engaging in an activity that he or she was never privy to. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a person with malicious goals in mind tags someone with the intent to draw derision and mockery to the hapless Facebook user.

And the problem runs deeper than just social stigma. Employers regularly check people’s Facebook pages now to see what kind of employee they’ll be hiring. What image will they come away with if they check someone’s Facebook profile and stumble upon posts providing gratuitous details of the prospective employee’s sex life? And what if those posts actually cite the wrong person?

If a Facebook user decides the description in a single story sounds a little like that one person he or she might have seen in class, with a quick tag that unfortunate person’s entire life can now be blown apart. A person in a happily committed relationship could find it come to a screeching halt when they’re tagged as having sex outside that relationship. An employer will look at his or her employee in a new, and less favorable light. And what a way it would be for your less-tolerant relatives to find out you’re gay.

These people have reputations and lives. The way UCR Hookups is run right now, it is all too easy for anyone to waltz in and bring someone’s life crashing down through nothing more than a quick tag. Based on the prolific posts that are continuously uploaded to the site, it doesn’t look like it will be going anywhere anytime soon. But ultimately it is the operator of UCR Hookups who is responsible for whatever fallout occurs, and that person can and should do more to protect people’s privacy.

Facebook, however, doesn’t lend itself to this. UCR Hookups operates because of the consistent likes, comments and shares that are spread throughout the Facebook world. Disabling comments would help protect innocent students, but it is also a draconian measure that would sap the life of the page, and the very reason so many people come to the page in the first place.

The best solution is to move the page entirely off of Facebook. There are many other forum sites around the Internet where people’s sexual adventures can be posted safely for all to see. But here, people could be able to register under pseudonyms, if they so chose. Moreover, there would be no tag function that could embarrass or malign students whose ordinary lives are showcased on their Facebook page. UCR Hookups should simply move to one of these forums, and be just as successful as it is now. It could even provide a link on its Facebook page.

Unlike the dime-a-dozen smutty romance novels eternally present in the checkout line at the pharmacy, these characters aren’t fictional creations spawned to life from the writer’s pen. The people lusted after in these stories are actual people who have family and friends, attend classes, work a job and party too. This is arguably part of what makes UCR Hookups so successful: playing the guessing game of who the hot, curvaceous girl living in the residence halls is, or knowing the identity of the sexy muscled dude who always works out at the Student Recreation Center.

But this can still be done on another site that does not have the influence or power that Facebook has. A posting on Facebook is like a flashing electronic billboard, announcing to every conceivable person what has happened. A posting on another forum would still give voyeurs and gossips plenty to talk about, but it would be off the radar of employers and uninterested relatives.

No matter what steps are taken to improve the sorely lacking state of privacy on the UCR Hookups page, everyone—the submitters, the readers, and the operator him or herself—must remember that they are holding the lives of UCR students in their hands. This is a great deal of power. And they must use it responsibly.

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