Tag Archive for facebook

Underage Students on Google and Facebook

Google is cracking down on underage accounts. Young students who accurately reported their age when creating a GMail account are finding themselves shut out without warning. The account closure is swift and complete. With a parent’s help, a child can reactivate an account. At this point, child and parent face a choice: comply with Google’s action to shut down the account or falsify the child’s age in the account and keep it open. I suspect that many will choose the latter.

Students who have their account within a Google Apps domain are better off. The Apps domain administrator creates accounts, does not report user age, and bears responsibility to ensure the privacy of student information. Google expects schools to secure parent consent for under-13 use of Google Apps. At a minimum, Google stores each student’s name and email address, but of course the account will also include content that the student has uploaded in the course of their work.

Google Apps domains are not just limited to schools. Any domain owner can set up a free Google Apps domain, though these are limited to 10 user accounts, and advertisements are displayed. Buying a domain and setting up free Google Apps allows a family to take greater control of the services and comply with parent consent requirements. Low-cost web hosts make it easy to buy a domain name for the family and use GMail.

What about Google+? Google has just added Plus to Apps, but only for higher-education institutions.

Google provides a form to request access but state that this is not for elementary and secondary schools.

Facebook requires users to report their age when setting up a new account.

Many students falsify their age, often with the support of their parents. Both children and parents want to gain access to the social networking platform in order to keep in touch with each other, relatives, and friends. Companies routinely do not create a way for parents to provide consent for a child to create an account, and in turn for the company to collect information about the child. Facebook also does not provide the option for a school to to administer student accounts with parent consent. I also wonder what lesson students are learning from their parents’ encouragement to falsify their age.


Collectives, Not Communities

Viewing social networks as collectives rather than communities may help us make sense of their place in schools . How can a person have 1,000 friends? Why do students spend so much time on Facebook? What is the nature of membership in a social network?

From Community to Collective: Institution and Agency in the Age of Social Networks (PDF)

Douglas Thomas explores how social network websites act primarily as collectives, not communities. In a collective, the institution is organized to provide individual agency to its members.

In a community, the general motive for participation is belonging, principally, belonging to an institution greater than oneself or even the sum of its members. In a collective, the investment is in participating … without the immediate sense of reciprocity that community entails.

Facebook, Google, Ebay, Amazon are all large institutional structures that have the singular and sole purpose of affording an individual agency.

Sometimes, a collective contains several communities within it. This makes it easy to conflate the two. However, the collective does not depend on the communities within it for its continued existence.

A student may interact with a subset of her social network contacts as a community, exchanging direct messages and commenting on friends’ posts. The entirety of a student’s social network may act as a collective, providing the student with critical information that supports her sense of personal agency, whether or not she posts at all.

If alumni and parents join a school’s Facebook page for reasons of personal agency, not reciprocal interaction, then the purpose of posting to the Facebook page changes considerably. A school would want to consider what content it could provide that would support individual agency.

Viewing social networks as collectives instead of communities has the potential to advance our understanding of their useful purpose in schools.

Photo credit: “Face in a crowd” by vividbreeze

What Should You Post On Facebook?

A recent study “cracks” Facebook’s algorithms, with implications for school content managers.


It’s all about social media, except when it isn’t.

I led a training session the other day to further integrate social media into our admission and development work. We considered a range of new uses: student bloggers, a dedicated Facebook page for applicants, Flickr and YouTube channels. Some potential initiatives were certainly exciting to consider.

Here’s the problem. None of the new ideas made the cut when we listed priority tasks for the upcoming year. I asked what were each department’s primary communication goals for the upcoming year, without presupposing the solution. In all cases, the identified goals suggested changes to our existing website, not our social media strategy.

Why? While we have a successful website, it has more room for improvement than does our social media strategy. The main website receives 3,000 visits each day. Our Facebook fan page has about 500 fans. Improvements to the main website will reach far more people.

Also consider that our main website allows users to more meaningfully transact with the school than does our social media pages. For example, you may sign up to volunteer, make a gift to the school, apply for admission, or comment on a student blog. Our Facebook and Twitter pages primarily push content out to people who may be listening and offer some opportunities for interaction. Our main website may have limited opportunities for social interaction, but it offers more opportunities further up the engagement pyramid.

I am glad that we  developed a social media strategy and voice. A small and growing proportion of our audience maintains contact with the school through that vehicle. It improves our ability to engage in a personal way with constituents. However, we will continue to parcel out our time and effort based on the audience size and quality of interaction with the school. We will be able to adjust these efforts as we track the growth in social media page membership and interactions.

How many fan pages do we have now?

As a result of Facebook’s new “Community Page” feature, our school now has two fan pages, one which we control, and one which we do not. Do you think this will confuse users? Why isn’t the community page feature just a tab on our fan page?

Facebook Freak-Out!

I am surprised by the level of hysteria over Facebook’s latest privacy changes and security breaches. Here’s why I’m neither upset nor leaving.

Facebook has no social contract with its users. Facebook is a company trying to carve out the largest possible niche on the Internet, by any means necessary. Some companies have a conscience. Don’t expect Facebook to.

Facebook offered the illusion of privacy. Some people mistook this for actual privacy. I suggest that people treat Facebook as if it were completely public. Post only information that you would be okay seeing on any website.

Many other websites expose plenty of your personal information: usernames, IP addresses, avatar (e.g., bulletin boards, listserv archives).

Facebook is not alone in using your posted content to target advertising to you. Yes, Facebook has taken this to a new level, but why does this come as a surprise?

Facebook is still the best way to stay in contact with your friends. If you object to their practices, then post only information you’re comfortable having public.

Facebook pages are incredibly effective for building a relationship with an organization’s constituents. It’s easy to post media, easy for people to express interest, and easy for them to interact with you. In the last couple of months, two individuals raised $2,000 through Causes birthday wishes for a nonprofit I help run. We didn’t solicit the gift. It just happened.

Will a better site come along and displace Facebook? It is more likely to happen now that Facebook is making more information public, which also makes it available to potential competitors. If another site does rise, don’t believe their privacy claims, either!

Image: http://www.civic.moveon.org/facebook/chart/

Teach Fifth Graders Facebook? Yes!

This week, fifth grade students have been working on a Facebook page for the One Ounce project, an effort to convince people to each reduce waste by one ounce per day. The objectives of this activity are to measure the dissemination of the One Ounce message to students and teachers and to gain a formal introduction to the Facebook platform. The Facebook “fan page” feature allows us to measure fans and interactions in a fairly direct way, allowing the kids to gain another measure of the success of their efforts. I also hope to demonstrate the effect of word-of-mouth sharing through social networks.

We have learned from our work with middle school students that engaging in constructive uses of Facebook is a vital component of education about social network sites. Students will not have their own Facebook accounts for this project. Facebook has an age limit of 13 years to register an account. Teachers will post all of the content, and students will view the content, the number of fans, and any likes and comments that individuals post.

So far, students have learned that Facebook accepts four forms of content by default: text, images, links, and videos. At first, most students wanted to publish videos, but more recently they have shifted to designing engagement strategies. We hope to encourage people to participate in the site and report on their own efforts to reduce waste.

Thinking Critically About Facebook Apps

What do middle school students need to know about Facebook? On January 13, middle school head Paul Andrichuk and Information Technology staff Daisy Steele and Richard Kassissieh led an afternoon workshop with middle students to encourage critical thought about personal information and the corporate entities behind the popular social network site.

Click on the links in this outline to see examples shared with the students.

What is a social network?

Facebook is the leader of social network sites, but many more exist. If we broaden our view to social media sites, in fact dozens exist. Social network sites represent a significant development, because:

1. Ordinary users contribute most of the content.
2. Companies have little control over site content.
3. They appeal to people’s sense of community.

Adoption is widespread. Alexa estimates that 30% of their users worldwide visit Facebook every day.

So much about social networks is new. People and organizations are less able to keep tight control over their website presence. Even giant companies are still figuring it out. Individuals have gained the possibility to use social media to gain unprecedented visibility.

How will the use of social networks change how people communicate? Facebook’s CEO thinks that it is changing social norms. Many disagree. How will students use social networks for good? What will Facebook do next? What will succeed Facebook?

The goal of today’s workshop is to apply our critical thinking skills to our use of social networks.

Students proceeded into three breakout groups by grade level. They then participated in three sessions led by Paul, Daisy, and Richard. Paul and two upper school students introduced sixth grade students to the process of setting up a new Facebook account. Daisy examined privacy settings with seventh and eighth graders. Richard investigated how Facebook applications access personal information. Below, please find notes from the apps workshop.

All About Apps (seventh and eighth grades)

A Facebook application ("app") is a piece of software that adds functionality to your Facebook page. Most are games or information-gathering devices (e.g., polls).

Most apps are built by companies other than Facebook. Installing an app shares your profile information with that other company.

To view your list of installed apps and uninstall one, go to the Applications link in the lower left-hand corner of the Facebook interface and click Edit Applications.

You may recognize status updates generated by applications from their nonstandard icons, the "via" text, and phrases like "Click here to help."

Though I am sure you are a very helpful person, clicking on that link will lead to the installation of a new app.

Note that Farmville will gain access to your profile information, photos, and freinds information, at the very least. Are you okay with this?

During the workshop, students completed a role play activity to learn more about the movement of personal information between a user, Facebook, and Zynga (the maker of Farmville). Download the handout.

After the role play, the group discussed the following questions.

  • What information does Zynga now have about you and your friend?
  • Did Zynga need this information for the game to work?
  • What else might Zynga do with your personal information?
  • What would prevent Zynga from doing something unethical with your information?
  • What could Facebook do to ensure that application developers keep your information safe?

The presenter then provided the group with more information about Zynga.

Clicking Allow indicates that you agree to the Farmville Terms of Service, which would should read and understand! Just one part of the TOS is fairly illuminating.

Section 4c

You grant to Zynga the unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual fully-paid and royalty-free right and license to host, use, copy, distribute, reproduce, disclose, sell, resell, sublicense, display, perform, transmit, publish, broadcast, modify, make derivative works from, retitle, reformat, translate, archive, store, cache or otherwise exploit in any manner whatsoever, all or any portion of your User Content [emphasis added] to which you have contributed, for any purpose whatsoever, in any and all formats; on or through any and all media, software, formula or medium now known or hereafter known; and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed and to advertise, market and promote same.

Can you trust Zynga with your personal information? Foudner and CEO Mark Pincus speaks in the following video about the measures he took to raise money for the company. The video sheds some light on the character of Zynga, its founder, and its reasons for existence. This may help you make an informed decisions about whether to share your personal information with this company.

Other companies have come under scrutiny for their security practices. RockYou improperly handled and inadvertently exposed 32 million usernames, passwords, and email address. Another company produced a "Secret Crush" application that didn’t actually reveal a secret crush but instead installed unwanted advertising on their computer.

We encourage student to think critically about Facebook apps and understand how personal information is handled when you play one of these games.

Blog Use

Happy New Year! To commemorate the end of the year, I took a look at this blog’s web statistics. A comparison of the number of posts to the number of pageviews is very interesting.

20100103-Picture 3.png


I wrote the most posts but received the least pageviews in 2006. I wrote the second most posts and received the most pageviews in 2008. In 2009, I wrote the fewest posts but received as many pageviews as in 2007, when I wrote twice as often. Without running the graph, one can see that the number of pageviews per post has increased significantly from year to year.

I don’t know exactly why this happened, but I can speculate that this blog has been carried along the wave of increased global readership of ed-tech blogs, or perhaps interested readers have simply found me. It is difficult to say for certain.

Before running the stats, I had wondered whether Facebook, Twitter, and Ning had taken all of the steam out of blogs. Does anyone really read blogs anymore? These results suggest that plenty of people at least came and visited, and perhaps even read, more than ever in 2009. On the other hand, did I post to Facebook and Twitter when I could have written more blog posts?

I can explain that I have written less frequently on my blog as I have become more deeply engaged at my school. In 2009, I built a new website for the school and assumed fourth and fifth grade teaching responsibilities. These are good developments that positively affect teaching and learning at my primary place of work. I know that I can support people more effectively through direct, personal contact than through blogging.

Nonetheless, I have picked up my blogging in the last three months and hope to continue this trend into 2010. Please do posts comments to keep up the conversation!

Good luck with your new year!

Facebook privacy changes in schools

This week, I sent my first “Facebook warning” to employees, students, and parents. Here’s the teacher version.

Dear Colleagues,

Facebook has implemented new privacy settings that make it much easier to broadly share your personal information. If you accept Facebook’s recommended privacy settings, Facebook will make your status updates, links, photos, videos, and notes available to the entire Internet (think Google). I recommend that you instead manually adjust your settings. Select Settings -> Privacy Settings from the blue menu bar and review the options in there.

In addition, Facebook will now share your friend list both on the Internet and with third-party Facebook applications. You do not have control over that.

This article explains the change in greater detail.

I encourage you to raise this topic with your students. Let me know if you have further questions.


Facebook has made significant changes to their privacy policy before. Why did I react strongly to this particular one? So many students, a lot of parents, and a number of teachers use Facebook regularly. Privacy is an important concern for all of these groups but particularly for students. The new features directly affect user privacy, and Facebook’s recommended settings reduce user privacy. In the past year, we have gained a more detailed understanding of Facebook use in our school community. We felt it appropriate to help our users keep up with the moving target of Facebook privacy settings.

By finely managing one’s privacy and post settings, it’s now possible to maintain a fine degree of control over one’s posts. However, that control may be illusory, as Facebook seems happy to change the rules on their platform pretty regularly. Who knows where and when they will head next.