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Page last updated at 15:05 GMT, Monday, 6 July 2009 16:05 UK

Brought to book

By Laura Schocker

The new chief of MI6, Sir John Sawers, has had his personal life made public thanks to his wife's Facebook page. It's another example of how the world's biggest social networking site can be used to reveal a bit too much information.

Sir John Sawers
Sir John Sawers - humbled by Facebook

When the wife of MI6 chief Sir John Sawers, Lady Shelley Sawers, posted personal pictures of her family, the information became available to her "friends" - and several million people who are part of the London network on Facebook.

As the popular website has opened up communication between millions of users, it has also opened up opportunities for sharing a bit too much.

It seems like hardly a day goes by without another example. On Monday, the retailer Primark launched an investigation after complaints about employees using the site to refer to customers as, among other terms, "fat" and "pikeys".

Over the past few years, Facebook gaffes have become a phenomenon of their own.

Jon Favreau
Jon Favreau - antics with a cut-out landed him in trouble

The speech writer credited with coining Barack Obama's ubiquitous "Yes we Can" campaign slogan proved that yes, we can put too much online. In December, pictures posted to Jon Favreau's Facebook page showed him groping a cardboard cut-out of the then president-elect's Secretary of State pick Hillary Clinton, while a friend held a beer up to her lips. The pictures were removed within two hours and Favreau later apologised to Clinton.

She accepted his apology, and apparently wasn't the only one: Favreau's Facebook page later disappeared for an altogether different reason - according to some reports, the 27-year-old's profile was receiving too much attention from women after the inauguration.


After telling her employer that she needed to miss work because of a migraine, a Swiss woman was discovered using Facebook, discounting her claim that she needed to spend the day in a darkened room. Nationale Suisse, a Swiss insurance company, fired the woman after a co-worker reportedly caught her logged in. But the unnamed woman "poked" back, claiming that the company was spying on her and that she was actually accessing the site from her iPhone in bed.

And she's not the only person whose Facebook use ended in a lost job. In March, for instance, a Philadelphia stadium worker lost his job after he called the local football team "retarded" for letting one of their players sign with another team.

Facebook eyeball
Facebook - a way of revealing your secrets to the world

Facebook may be free to sign up for, but it ended up costing a group of Oxford students several thousand pounds in fines. The university used the website to find pictures of students engaged in the tradition of "trashing," where graduates spray each other with champagne and eggs to celebrate completing their coursework.

While the members of the student union were outraged by the university's methods, they are hardly unique in being monitored for disciplinary purposes. In November 2007, three Ohio boys were suspended from school for 90 days after calling their teacher a paedophile on Facebook and, earlier that year, a group of teens in Halifax, Nova Scotia, were suspended after threatening a pregnant teacher on the site.


Last year, several British police officers were put under investigation after a Facebook group was discovered boasting about police car and pedestrian crashes. According to one report, a user wrote about a collision: "I did him a favour. At 82 years old you just shouldn't be on the road and if you are, then most certainly don't go through a green light into the path of an innocent police car."

Members compared notes, shared stories and posted pictures. The group, dubbed Yes I Have Had a Polcol (police collision), later sparked an investigation by Scotland Yard.


Lady Sawers isn't the first person to spill secrets to the London Facebook network: last year, Crystal Palace football player Ashley-Paul Robinson announced on his page that he planned to leave for a rival club, before Crystal Palace knew of his plans.

His next status update was a bit less surprising: "Ashley-Paul has been very naughty lol!" His fans - and employer - weren't as amused.

Below is a selection of your Facebook clangers.

I recently bought a car from a well known dealership near where I live. Disappointingly, the electrics went wrong two weeks after the warrantee ran out. I was, understandably, annoyed and made it quite clear using my status field that I was unhappy, forgetting the guy who actually sold me the car had added me as a "friend". Unsurprisingly, he saw it, and, after I had called them "robbing gits" he offered to fix the problem for no charge! Worked out well really, albeit after a small period of "red-facedness"!!!!
Aimi, Lincs

People once thought being dumped by text message was bad. I ended it on Facebook without telling my other half first. He saw the "Iain is now listed as single" status and went ballistic! Oops.
Iain, Birmingham, UK

Someone was supposed to be doing some work for me but rang to say he couldn't do it as he had fallen off his bike and damaged his knee. He then put on Facebook that he was actually off cycling instead and had bunked off. Charming...
Mike, Manchester

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