Use only as directed

Look up John Yates on Facebook, and you'll find the Southern Oregon University freshman likes vegan and organic foods, martial arts, and the TV show Futurama. His profile also lists his birth date, information that some say shouldn't be posted on the Internet.

Yates has taken precautions that only people he confirms are his friends have access to his e-mail and phone number he has posted on the site, but all facebook users can see pictures of him and his friends, the high school he attended, and his birth date, which he says does not bother him.

Since it was created nearly four years ago, Facebook has evolved from a simple social networking Web site where college students listed basic contact information and interests, to a network anyone with an e-mail address can join and post pictures or videos and chat with other members. For some, it has become a primary means of communication governed by a set of unspoken &

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"It's just kind of basic rules of the Internet, you don't add anyone who you have no idea who they are," Yates said. He has confirmed friendships with four or five people he has never met, although he said he always talks to them through Facebook's message system before allowing them access to his contact information.

Not everyone is as careful.

"There are people who will just add random people for no reason," Yates said.

In a recent study done by Sophos, a British IT company, 41 percent of Facebook users accepted the friendship of a fraudulent Facebook profile and divulged personal information, such as an e-mail address, phone number, address, birth date or work and education details.

"Any information that could be subject to identity theft would be of obvious concern," said Jonathan Eldridge, vice president of academic affairs at SOU.

Paying attention to privacy settings on social networking sites is akin to locking your doors and not walking alone at night or giving out your credit card number, he said.

"Even address information, if you don't know who's going to be seeing it, do you want them to know about your preferences and also where you live?" Eldridge asked. "It's one thing to be getting a lot of e-mail from someone. It's another thing to have someone show up at your door."

For all the risks sites like Facebook present, they can also facilitate friendships and make the transition to college easier, he said.

Yates has already posted an announcement about his intent to start a metal band this fall, and has received two inquiries from other SOU students.

SOU freshman Felicia Brown made tentative plans to go fishing a few weeks after she arrives on campus and has already "friended" several of her soon-to-be dorm mates.

"I just like the fact that I get to meet people that are going to my school so I don't feel like I don't know anybody," she said.

Although she has not met them in person yet, she said she feels safe adding them as friends because they are from the SOU network. She is more careful with people she doesn't know who try to contact her from other networks.

Freshman Aubrey Zagar follows similar guidelines on both Facebook and MySpace, a networking site that preceded Facebook. She used the sites to find out that her future roommate enjoys playing golf, knitting and exercising.

Following the success of Facebook and MySpace, a myriad of smaller niche sites have appeared, including LinkedIn, a site primarily for professionals, accessed by invitation only, and even for fishing enthusiasts.

"It isn't technology to most young people today," Eldridge said. "It's just part of life."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or . To post a comment on this story, go to .

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