What we should teach students about Facebook

There’s a very good chance that new students arriving in September will come with a profile on Facebook, the social networking site. And if they don’t (and the recent trends continue) they’ll sign up very soon. I’m interested in a variety of issues around the use of social networking sites as communications platforms. These include the kinds of institutional responses which are beginning to emerge (for example Brian Kelly reports on, MyNewport, a Facebook application that allows students to access to their college learning resources from Facebook) together with ways in which lecturers think they can/could/should respond to the environment.

The response I’m trying here is to strike a note of caution in order to foster some creative, critical thinking over the herding instinct harnessed by sites such as Facebook and MySpace (“everybody’s doing it so it must be OK”). So have a read, add to, comment, criticise … and see if we could use it (or something similar) for the students as part of their induction.

The following is not some conspiracy theory! Just some thoughts about the social networking site that you are probably participating in as you get to grips with student life.

Your presence is being monetised

Advertising is attracted by the number of ‘eyeballs’ on a site. Current user stats are revealing: Facebook has 80 million users, My Space 150 million and it’s owned by News Corporation (bought for $580 million and with a predicted value three years down the line of $15 billion). The owners of Facebook refused an offer of $750 million and are said to be holding out for $2 billion.

Your presence is being monitored

There has been a lot of discussion about the private/public nature of facebook in the US.

The Des Moines Register’s online site explains that students at northern Kentucky universities were charged with certain violations after students posted pictures of themselves drinking alcohol. The Secret Service examined a University of Oklahoma student who made a comment, meant for a joke, about assassinating the president. Melissa Leitzsey

Now the same problems are appearing here in the UK as reported in the Guardian.

Oxford University staff are logging on to Facebook and using evidence they find on student profiles to discipline students.

Photos on the social networking website of undergraduates celebrating the end of their exams have been emailed to students by the proctors, Oxford’s disciplinary body, as evidence of breaches of the University’s code of conduct.

Have you ever tried to Google your Facebook profile?

Facebook owns your content.

This is what it says in the small print on the Facebook site:

By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content…

So you may be gossiping, making friends, organising your social life, looking for part-time jobs, full-time partying and even … discussing a recent lecture, but Facebook owns it all.

You can never really leave

Have you thought about an exit strategy from Facebook? You may not want to leave or you might even feel ‘obliged’ to have a profile (“you mean you’re NOT on Facebook” is powerful peer-pressure, and great business), but if you did want to go, what about your digital footprint …? Remember, you can’t take your content with you.

Beware the widget

And all those widgets you’ve added to extend your profile and make ‘your site’ look cool? You might think Sainsbury’s loyalty card is a good marketing ploy to find out what you buy from them when. But 12% of all time spent on the internet by North Americans is spent on MySpace … 40% of all online activity happens on 10 websites … Already, Facebook has become the seventh-most heavily trafficked site on the Internet, according to market researcher comScore Media Metrix. It received 5.5 billion page views during the month of February, 2007 alone. The concentration is staggering, and worrying.

Facebook will probably overtake MySpace and it has the added cache that it’s market is the student population/faculty staff. A marketers heaven!! Lets wait until Barclays Bank uses the open API innovation to lay claim to advertising space. It’ll do so by streaming some cool video content but … beware.

Only work for free if YOU want to

Social networking can be seen as free labour – reviewing a film, uploading a video, commenting on a blog. Great if you’re doing it for a friend and/or fully understand how your ‘work’ is being used. But doing it for News Corp, Rupert Murdoch …?

‘My options for who I am’

And lastly, have you thought about some of the decisions that you were asked to make on ‘your profile’ … male/female? How about transgender? Political views? Religious view? The options are limited to say the least and I think they probably say a great deal about the ideology implicit in the site.

Putting things on Facebook is like putting things on your front lawn – you can’t control who sees it but it was your choice to put it there in the first place!

So those are some thoughts that I’ve been having about Facebook after joining the site a few months ago. Yes, I’m one of the 8,120 facebookers in the MMU network – though my security levels are private. How about yours?

facebook profile