Opportunities for Legal Research: Facebook Edition

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From the NY Times:

Each day about 1,700 juniors at an East Coast college log on to Facebook.com to accumulate”friends,”compare movie preferences, share videos and exchange cybercocktails and kisses. Unwittingly, these students have become the subjects of academic research.

To study how personal tastes, habits and values affect the formation of social relationships (and how social relationships affect tastes, habits and values), a team of researchers from Harvard and the University of California, Los Angeles, are monitoring the Facebook profiles of an entire class of students at one college, which they declined to name because it could compromise the integrity of their research. ***

[I]t is Facebook’s role as a petri dish for the social sciences : sociology, psychology and political science : that particularly excites some scholars, because the site lets them examine how people, especially young people, are connected to one another, something few data sets offer, the scholars say.

The full NYT article is here.  

FeministLawProfs previously has noted points of intersection between and  among Facebook, law and the legal profession (e.g., here, here and here).   Just as these social scientists are using  Facebook to study  human connections, legal scholars could use Facebook to explore a variety of questions:

  • In what types of cases and how has  Facebook been used to identify victims/perpetrators of crimes?   What constitutional issues would be implicated if the police were to use Facebook for crime prevention and/or making arrests?
  • How is internet-based (Facebook-based?) harassment different from or the same as in-person harassment?
  • What sorts of legal privacy issues are implicated by Facebook and similar sites?  
  • How are social networking sites being used by legal employers?   How are social networking sites being used by law students for employment-related activities?
  • How are law students using social networking sites for law school-related groups and activities?
  • How are law students’ Facebook networks different from those of other graduate students?   What does this add to our knowledge about resiliance or vulnerability of our students?
  • How are law schools using  (or not using) social networking platforms to transmit information to students and/or alumni?  
  • How are members of the legal academy using (or not using) social or professional networking platforms to connect with each other, organize around common interests or otherwise share information?

-Bridget Crawford (here, here  and here)

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0 Responses to Opportunities for Legal Research: Facebook Edition

  1. Ralph M. Stein says:

    Some interesting questions here and I’ll be using Prof. Crawford’s post in my Spring Privacy law seminar. Quite a few of our students are active on either Facebook or a similar social networking site.

    As I posted here (I think) previously, Facebook was the key to Indiana police arresting five women at Ball State for brutally beating a fellow student. The five defendants all boasted about attacking the woman online.

    Are law students’ entries on social networking sites different from that of others? Well, age is a factor as is the reality of having been competitively selected for professional education. I wonder if medical students are as active on these sites as law students are.

    But it seems that some law students are no more mature than many of their younger online “friends” and I’m told that some of our students have entries that can come back to haunt them.

    Of course employers will use Web searching to find out what a resume and an interview don’t disclose. Many law students (and students in other fields) either know that or soon will so one factor to consider is if, make that when, these sites are used to “plant” information for potential employers (“I enjoy law school but it occupies too little of my productive time. I look forward to being able to proudly bill 3,000 hours a year for a top flight firm.” Or, “My xxx education is the capstone to my desire for a life of service in the ………”).

    I am exploring the privacy issues and it will be a main topic next semester but, overall, the issue is relevant when information is published by someone about someone. What I’ve seen so far, odd cases aside, is a remarkable transparency in what people say about themselves.

  2. Eric says:

    I’m glad to see this post, because my current research is about law students’ use of social networking sites, particularly Facebook. My project is focused on some of the questions Bridget highlights: what are law students using facebook for? what network patterns are there? how do law students present themselves? Within these questions, I’m especially interested in exploring differences among law students — e.g. gender, race, class, school prestige, career orientation, etc.

    In a related vein, I’m also in the very early stages of developing a project about lawyers and law students in Second Life.

    I’d be very interested to hear from others working in this area.

  3. larisa says:

    This is really interesting stuff.. A great list of questions. And some interesting research!

    And I’m excited to see this discussion (and this research) because I’ve just offered a paper on the “Rights in Cyberspace” for a panel at the Law & Society Association’s annual meeting. My colleague is going to present on disability and accessibility on the internet. I’m hoping more law & society scholars will attend to these issues as well.