On Web, social sites can sometimes bite

It has never been easier to get in trouble while catching up with friends.

Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are great ways to reconnect with old acquaintances and meet new ones. But posts can be problems -- the work rant you didn't expect the boss to see or the photos your old roommate posted that document your familiarity with keg stands.

In the past week:

* Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools suspended an elementary school teacher who wrote on her Facebook page that she was teaching "in the most ghetto school in Charlotte." Four others were disciplined for postings that included sexually provocative photos of female teachers and a black male teacher listing as an activity "Chillin with my nas!!!"

* In Durham, two police officers were the subject of an internal investigation after derogatory remarks about President-elect Barack Obama were posted on their MySpace pages.

* A backup center on the University of Texas football team apologized for his "terrible decision" to post a racially offensive text message he received about Obama's victory as a status update on his Facebook page. The post by the player, Buck Burnette, suggested that hunters "gather up," because a black man would be occupying the White House. Burnette was dismissed from the team.

More than 70 million users have registered online for Facebook accounts this year alone. With recent college graduates, older professionals and other adults flocking to the site, some are learning the hard lessons endured by teens and college students when they overshared online.

N.C. State associate professor Sarah Stein teaches courses on digital media and researches the cultural and social implications of new technologies such as social network sites.

When it first emerged in 2004, Stein noted, Facebook was open only to college students, faculty and staff at a handful of academic institutions. In those first years, there was a sense among Facebook users that this was a very contained community where outsiders without a university e-mail account could not snoop.

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