Let’s first build some context around the title of this post; though the verb ban is used, we haven’t actually formally decreed that the use of Facebook is prohibited amongst our students – this would not be appropriate or possible amongst a group of adults – nor have we deployed network tools to restrict access to Facebook across School provided facilities. We have however made a strong case to all our students (assembled for a recent all-programme meeting) that the use of Facebook, including Facebook Groups, for course related activity is not supported by the course team. Why would we make such a decision and how do our students feel about it?
There are two main reasons for this decision:
Facebook is a company
Of all the social platforms Facebook has one unique qualifier, its size. With over 1 billion users worldwide (33 million in the UK) Facebook has unparalleled scale. Looking at it another way, approximately 1 in 2 of the UK population are on Facebook. I’m sure we can therefore agree that its reach into our society is unique. Consequently, Facebook has ceased to be viewed as a company – which it most definitely is – and more as a benign public utility – which it is not. A public utility would by definition be bound by a degree of governmental or community oversight. The same is not true for a company where the primary objective is to create value for itself and its shareholders – this value can also benefit the user base and I do not wish to imply a specific problem with the model, just that it is quite different from that of public utility.
On highlighting Facebook’s data brokerage activities one keen student asked how is Facebook allowed to do this? The question is most revealing and brings us to a key point, Facebook’s activities are governed by its (ever changing) Terms and Data Use Policy which all users agree to on signing up.
Freedom to make mistakes
Communication and effective tools to enable sharing and collaboration are of fundamental importance to both staff and students of the programme. It is for this reason that we have operated our own bespoke communications and collaboration platform since 2006 – we call it CTNet. CTNet has several social-like features and it is private to all but CT staff and students. Data is handled according to strict guidelines and when something is deleted, it really is deleted.
It was encouraging to find that the majority of our students were to some extent aware of the wider reality and further discussion revolved around online privacy and the implications of using other popular services like Google Search, Gmail and Twitter. While terms of service will apply to all online services, each service needs to be assessed individually.
* Extract from Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities