Kent State students create application to 'wash' Facebook pages

By Thomas Gallick | Staff Writer Published:

If you're looking for a way to help keep your resume out of the trash, three Kent State University students may have the answer.

Kent State seniors Camden Fullmer, Daniel Gur and David Steinberg, who met in computer science classes at the university, recently created FaceWash, an online application that searches users' Facebook pages for potentially vulgar words and phrases and gives them the opportunity to delete the offending material. Steinberg said the group thinks the application could prevent some awkward conversations between Facebook users and potential employers who check social media sites before they make a decision on a hire.

"The idea came about that there are a lot of college students joining the professional world quickly and potentially not so easily," Steinberg said. "So we thought why don't we make a tool that can help automate the process of finding content connected to (your) social presence online that you could then clean up as you wish."

The three friends came up with the idea while attending a "hackathon" at the University of Pennsylvania the weekend of Jan. 18, where teams where challenged to create useful online and mobile applications over 48 hours. More than 135,000 unique visitors have made their way to the three's website, facewa.sh, since the group first presented the application.

Fullmer said the friends have been "blown away" by the public and media response to FaceWash, especially because no one on the team did any marketing of the application. Since their presentation at the "hackathon," FaceWash has been featured in stories in the Los Angeles Times' Tech Now blog and internet news site Mashable, among other publications.

And it all nearly didn't happen.

Fullmer said the programmers thought they hit a snag early in the development of the application when they found out they could not include a button on the application which would direct Facebook to delete an offending post.

"That Saturday we were going to scrap the idea and start new," Fullmer said.

He said the group ultimately decided it might be better to simply alert users of potentially offensive material, and make them access their Facebook page to make the final decision to delete the offending phrases. The team also hopes internet users will keep suggesting ways to improve the product as well as suggesting new words and phrases to flag.

Even though they just created the tool a few weeks ago, Steinberg said the trio is already looking for ways to improve the application and, eventually, make a profit from it.

He said the program is currently available in English and Spanish, but should be available for users who speak other languages in the near future. The FaceWash team also hopes to create a related application that searches through Facebook users' photographs and flags images with shapes that resemble potentially objectionable content such as a beer bottle or a disposable cup.

Steinberg said it will again be important to just highlight possibly inappropriate content and let users choose if they want to go in and delete material. He said users may find a bottle of alcohol in a photograph at a wedding may be acceptable to a user, while a bottle at a party may not.

"We want to make sure ... to let the user choose which way they want to go with the content, but catch what we can," Steinberg said.

Steinberg said the team hopes to find a way to turn FaceWash in to a business, but he said he could not currently comment on whether that would be achieved through advertisements, a subscription service or through other potential revenue streams.

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1126 or tgallick@recordpub.com

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