Students dabble in the fields of online agriculture

It’s been a long time since Facebook — like shower sandals, cheap beer and pretentious art posters — was associated exclusively with college students.

I don’t think anyone begrudges this transition, though it is always alarming to see your mother comment on the sweater you wore to “LAS VEGAS TRIP(PY) Part Deux.”

But whereas it once might have been strange to see a status update from your professor regarding his favorite bar, or a wall post from your 10-year-old cousin, the site’s shift toward the mainstream was always inevitable.

The passionately joined and casually abandoned groups with names like “REMOVE THE NEWSFEED OR WE’RE ALL GOING TO FRIENDSTER” — rest in peace.

Surely, one of the most important reasons there has never been a mass Facebook exodus is that the site has never allowed its users to plaster their profiles with blaring music, nauseating wallpapers and animated jpegs of dancing kittens.

Bumper stickers and graffiti had their moment in the sun, but since becoming a network for everyone, Facebook has kept it relatively classy. With one glaring exception: social gaming.

If you’re racking your brain as to what this is, it’s because you would only recognize it in this context:

“Tobias found a sad Ugly Duckling on their farm. Oh no! Tobias was farming when a sad, Ugly Duckling wandered onto their farm in FarmVille. This poor ducky ran away from his old home because the other ducklings made fun of him. He feels very sad and could use a new home.”

Next to this strange paragraph, there is generally a picture of a purple duck with big, sad eyes. And next to that picture is the profile picture of your most socially obtuse and sun-deprived friend.

FarmVille, and others like it, constantly barrage news feeds with bizarre and jarring updates like, “Gretchen sold a harvest of Guavas, Persimmon and Blueberries for 8230 coins. Yay!”

The status updates are designed to lure in new users — users with the interests and reading levels of third graders, and, most importantly, users with credit cards.

These social games don’t just exist to make your newsfeed look as though it was written by a children’s book author with a Twitter account and Kid Pix. They also scam users into giving up their credit card numbers and paying hidden fees without realizing it.

A report on points out that unless users opt to pay upfront to play the games, they have to earn “coins” or other currency by filling out surveys or signing up for free trials, which inevitably result in them purchasing unwanted subscriptions to Netflix or DVD learning programs.

Facebook has a policy against these kinds of scams but they have yet to take a stand against them, perhaps because social games are such a big profit maker for the site.

So the next time you see a MafiaWars status that says, “Brett helped Julie gun down an enemy crew at the airport and wants you to help too,” click hide.

It won’t do anything to stop social gaming, but it will make your newsfeed look a little more normal.

Laura Reeve is a senior majoring in public relations. Her column, “Folk Laur,” runs every other Wednesday.