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Facebook Block Party Demonstrates Power, Peril of Social Networking

September 23, 2008 10:02 AM
by Josh Katz
The story of a block party that spiraled out of control through Facebook underscores the impact that social networking sites can have.

When Facebook Block Parties Go Wrong

Jimmy Lemke, a student at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, had scheduled an old-fashioned block party on N. Frederick Ave. for Sept. 20. He created a Facebook group for the event, which would become about 5,000-people strong.

Lemke, the president of the student basketball club, wanted to generate more school pride, as the basketball games suffered from sub-par attendance. So he and his friend created the Facebook group in April to initiate something “that was ours and ours alone,” he said. The block party was the result.

“He pictured a big, happy cookout, with friendly coeds throwing the football around and tossing beanbags. He purposely left alcohol out of the description,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

But comments began to fill the Facebook page, indicating that alcohol would have its place at the event. Community members and school officials became concerned that the party could turn into a version of the large annual Mifflin Street Block Party near the University of Wisconsin—Madison that boasts about 10,000 people.

Lemke did not seek a permit, fearing that he wouldn’t get approval. He then met with Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Helen Mamarchev and Dean of Students Jim Hill at the end of August, and they warned him that SWAT teams and mounted police might patrol the event. Listening to Mamarchev’s suggestion, Lemke opted to cancel the party by telling people on the Facebook page not to attend and spreading that information throughout the neighborhood.

“The police are going to contact me, as if I’m some sort of rebel ring leader trying to further the downfall of gentlemanly society,” Lemke said. “They need someone to blame, and it’s going to be me.”

Sept. 20 passed without any commotion. “At 7:30 p.m. a single campus police cruiser patrolled the area, and a few students gathered on porches to talk quietly and smoke cigarettes, but there were no signs of a block party,” the Sentinel writes.

Background: Others in legal trouble for social networking

At the end of July, Facebook photos led to a stiff sentence for a young drunk driver, also illustrating the importance that image can have in the Internet age when all is laid bare.

College junior Joshua Lipton, 20, posed as a “jail bird” at a Halloween party just two weeks after a car accident in which he caused a woman serious injury while driving drunk. The prosecution used pictures of the party on Facebook to demonstrate Lipton’s lack of remorse, and the judge concurred, sentencing him to two years in prison.

A similar case came up earlier that month in the form of an 18-year-old Pennsylvania man who bragged of his speeding and drug an alcohol use on MySpace even after being charged with a DUI-related homicide.

MySpace turned fatal when Lori Drew’s daughter had a falling out with classmate Meghan Meier. Lori Drew invented a MySpace profile of a boy who flirted with Meier and then rejected her, allegedly driving her to suicide. Drew was ultimately indicted on “federal counts of conspiracy and accessing protected computers without authorization.” In this case, Drew’s use of MySpace to pretend she was someone else was considered a violation of the terms of the site.

Social networking also has its place on an international political level. In April and May, young activists used Facebook to organize opposition to the Egyptian government.  The country thought about banning Facebook as a result. A Facebook group called for nationwide strikes on April 6, because of rising food and oil prices and a growing gap between rich and poor. The April strike occurred, as did another, after a Facebook group boasted about 150,000 members.

Related Topics: Social networking for spies, babies


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