My objections against the use of Facebook in school

(The following text is a draft and might change)

Using Social Networking Services such as Facebook in school is a nice idea. Learning in social communities or learning enhanced by social networking sites (SNS) is very popular and you will sure find a lot of very good arguments and best practices around situated learning in communities of practice – just to mention some of the buzzword around this issue. But I currently have some distinct objections against the use of Facebook in school:

  • Do not force minors into a contracts, that they cannot fulfil nor understand
    Have you ever had look at the terms of use of Facebook? Give it a try and review the terms. You will realise that it is quite likely that you or others whom you know of have already done things that do not comply with those rules.
    First of all those terms of use state that the minimum age of users must be 13. In principle users have to actively and deliberately agree to the processing of their personal data. Thus the user needs to know and understand what he or she agrees to. This is where the problem starts. Usually pupils in school are under-age (younger than 18) and even as teens their capability of discernment is limited. Therefore parents usually need to agree to those terms of use too – Or consequently users need to be at least 18 years of age. Another problem of capability of discernment and understanding is language: Facebook’s terms of use are in English only. This means that the site expects and assumes users to be able to master the English language to a very high degree.
  • Freedom of school
    We should bear in mind that Facebook is a commercial company aiming to make profit. By using Facebook as teachers and by encouraging pupils to use Facebook for school purposes school becomes a commercial instrument of Facebook. It would thus be exploiting children for economic interests if Facebook is able to enter and to penetrate school.
  • Data privacy
    Imagine as a parent or educator you learn that your school hands assessment data of pupils to an external data provider. The outrage would be loud enough.
    But the same happens when school engages into Facebook. It is assumable that pupils deal with personal data when they use Facebook in school contexts. In this perspective pupils hand over personal and potentially school related data to Facebook as an external provider.
  • School should remain non-commercial
    In principle school is ad-free. Facebook is not a charity enterprise but a full blown global economic player. Facebook makes use of advertisements and generates profit on its site by various means, be it just by the sheer presence of the logged in user, by users playing some third parity game or just by users who click on these fancy items in the top right column of the page. By encouraging pupils to use Facebook in school those advertisements penetrate school in a subtle but systematic way.

It is up to the responsibility of teachers, educators, policy makers, … and of course parents too, to welcome new forms of learning. But it is also our responsibility to ask uncomfortable questions and to critically reflect those potentially difficult relationships between commercial and educational structures.

My proposal for the use of social networking sites in school would be to use a site that was specifically and carefully designed for school contexts. It is necessary to implement special structures of cyberwork in social communities for minors whereas the major SNS are not able to provide those carefully designed infrastructures.


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