Changing Facebook’s architecture

May 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

My latest book chapter, ‘Changing Facebook’s architecture’ has come out in An education in facebook?, edited by Mike Kent and Tama Leaver. I just got my review copy in the mail and I’m looking forward to getting a chance to explore it. Mike and Tama have put together an excellent collection that’s well-grounded in empirical research from a teaching and learning perspective while also drawing on more critical perspectives, including work on surveillance, privacy, accessibility, and cultural issues.

My own chapter looks particularly at tensions with using a commercial platform which systematically collects users’ data and shares it with both business and state organisations, suggesting that at the very least educators should be considering privacy-enhancing and ad-blocking browser extensions as an essential part of any use of Facebook in education.

Changing Facebook’s architecture: abstract

This chapter looks at the use of browser extensions by students to shape their experience of Facebook, and suggests ways in which educators at the tertiary level might encourage the use of extensions as a strategy for ameliorating some of the concerns associated with Facebook use. The focus is primarily on privacy concerns (cf. Hew, 2011), particularly those related to institutional privacy (cf. Raynes-Goldie, 2010), and on the ethical issues associated with encouraging or requiring students to use a platform for education which displays targeted advertising, which have thus far received woefully little attention.

While there is some recognition that educational ‘consumers’ of services such as Facebook need not take them at face value, accepting the norms, etiquette, and affordances encouraged by the site’s architecture, most work on Facebook and education focuses on individual responses used by teachers or students. While this work is valuable, it predominantly fits within the scope of what de Certeau called ‘tactics': hidden, “clever tricks, knowing how to get away with things” (1984, p. xix). Tactical responses do not change Facebook’s architecture, rather they respond to it in a temporary way, contingent on Facebook’s tacit approval or inability to enforce its terms of service. For example, Munoz and Towner recommend that teachers create profile pages “for professional use only” (2009, p. 8), which directly contravenes Facebook’s ban on multiple accounts (Facebook Help Centre, 2012) if teaching staff already have a profile. In contrast to this, browser extensions arguably work at the level of strategy. While de Certeau sees strategies as primarily deployed by those in power, he defines them with reference to the structure of systems and totalizing discourses, the way in which (physical) spaces are organised and controlled (1984, p. 38). Browser extensions which combat Facebook’s ability to track users across external sites (Felix, 2012) as well as blocking advertising on the site make fundamental shifts to the users’ experience of Facebook and the structure of the site architecture, changing the way in which the space is organised and controlled.

Despite the potential benefits of browser extensions as a strategy for (re)gaining user control of the Web, only a small percentage of Internet users employ browser extensions. Adblock, the “most popular extension for Chrome” (Gundlach, 2012), is only installed by approximately ten per cent of Chrome users. Around nine per cent of users across browsers have some sort of ad-blocking extension, although this is higher for visitors to technology-related content (ClarityRay, 2012). There is therefore a need for increased education around the use of these strategies, as well as further discussion of the contradictions involved in using a commercial platform while simultaneously attempting to subvert it. This chapter concludes by suggesting a framework for the use of browser extensions for teachers who wish to use Facebook in their teaching.

Bibliography
Certeau, M. D. (1984). The practice of everyday life: Michel de Certeau ; translated by Steven Rendall. (S. F. Rendall, Trans.). University of California Press.
ClarityRay. (2012, May). Ad-blocking, measured. Retrieved from http://www.clarityray.com/
Facebook Help Centre. (2012). Disabled – Multiple Accounts. Facebook. Retrieved January 9, 2013, from https://www.facebook.com/help/149623348508517/
Felix, S. (2012, September 9). This Is How Facebook Is Tracking Your Internet Activity. Business Insider. Retrieved January 9, 2013, from http://www.businessinsider.com/this-is-how-facebook-is-tracking-your-internet-activity-2012-9
Gundlach, M. (2012). AdBlock. Retrieved January 9, 2013, from https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/adblock/gighmmpiobklfepjocnamgkkbiglidom?hl=en
Hew, K. F. (2011). Students’ and teachers’ use of Facebook. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(2), 662–676. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2010.11.020
Munoz, C., & Towner, T. (2009). Opening Facebook: How to Use Facebook in the College Classroom. Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2009, 2009(1), 2623–2627.
Raynes-Goldie, K. (2010). Aliases, creeping, and wall cleaning: Understanding privacy in the age of Facebook. First Monday, 15(1). Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2775/2432

 

Teaching on Facebook and content restrictions

October 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

Today when I logged into Facebook I Imagegot a message letting me know that I was banned from posting any content for the next 24 hours. Another contributor from a group I help to moderate had posted ‘inappropriate content’ and so all moderators for that group were temporarily locked from posting to Facebook at all.

This would be mildly annoying most of the time, but at the moment I’m teaching a unit where a substantial proportion of the discussion takes place through a Facebook group. Ironically, the unit is on ‘power and politics’ and the Internet.

While there are compelling reasons to experiment with Facebook in teaching (including students’ preference for the site over universities’ official learning management systems), doing so will inevitably raise issues like this. Should I leave the group? Should I, and other educators, avoid posting to Facebook about issues that may lead to bans? Should I try to create a teaching profile and a personal profile (which is against Facebook policy)? I and other contributors have touched on some of these issues in the chapter I contributed to An Education in Facebook?, but we need to be thinking more about ownership and control as we explore new teaching tools.

IR13 Sunday highlights: mobile ecologies, Instagram, disruptive spaces, teaching on Facebook…and a bit more activism

October 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Image of a barber and phone shop in Langa

Store in Langa township, courtesy of Adamina

The day began with ‘Mobile ecologies: mobile phones and young people’s online participation in public access venues in Cape Town’ from Marion Walton and Jonathan Donner. Walton started by saying that mobile Internet in South Africa doesn’t, for the most part, mean smart phones, the Web, or Twitter: it means “feature phones”, and probably platforms like Mxit. Southern ecologies of use for mobile phones are also very different from Northern contexts: most public schools don’t have the resources to provide training in technology, and the overlap between mobile use and the spheres of tertiary education and the workplace is limited (since many people don’t have the opportunity to study further and unemployment is high). Those who are poorest pay the highest costs for data, as prepaid data access is far more expensive than broadband access. Putting this together allows a better understanding of mobile Internet use beyond well-off users in the North: as Internet handsets become more accessible, they amplify some people’s participation more than others, interacting with existing inequalities in diverse ways.

Later in the session, Magdalena Olszanowski looked at Instagram’s spaces of flow. This is one of those talks where I knew absolutely nothing coming in (I don’t use Instagram, let alone study it) , but there were some useful links with the reading I’ve been doing lately on space/place that I want to explore later. It was also lovely seeing the slides, which (as you might expect) were illustrated with beautiful photos.

Slide detailThe next session was a tough choice between ethnographies of online and mobile media and a session on social movements. I ended up going to the latter, but I’ll have to chase down the papers on ethnographies later (and this talk on the ethnography of microblogging and this book and, now that I look again at the program, also the work on social media: technologies of control). There were a couple of good papers in the social movements session on the use of new media in Egypt and Tunisia, questioning the dominant narratives of social media use as key to organising on the ground. Simon Lindgren‘s work on disruptive spaces also looks useful, including the recommendation to look at the edges of networks as well as the cores in research.

There were also a few papers I missed (or other links that turned up in the tweet stream): Agency, Resistance, and Orders of Dissent, Farida VisSocial Media, Social Change, Johnny Unger’s work on Occupy, and an open access special issue on socially mediated publicness,

network mapTim and I presented in the following panel (slides to come), on politics and civic engagement, so my note-taking was limited. Tim’s paper on ‘#auspol, #qldpol, and #wapol: Twitter and the new Australian political commentariat’ will probably be of interest to some readers (so keep an eye on his site for updates), Sharon Strover and Sujin Choi’s ‘YouTube and civic engagement’ was notable for its examination of reply networks on YouTube, and Sheetal Agarwal et al’s paper (also out of SoMe Lab) provides a good model for understanding OWS as a networked organisation (or a series of interconnected networked organisations).

Nearly 70% of students see giving support as a key reason for participating in the group.

Giving support is even more important for students than receiving it.

The day (and the conference) ended with a lively discussion from my colleagues Mike Kent, Tama Leaver, and Kate Raynes-Goldie on the use of Facebook in tertiary education, with Clare Lloyd‘s research presented in absentia. Mike presented the most positive perspective, arguing that while boundaries need to be set, Facebook provides a familiar environment for student engagement that stimulates discussion effectively. Tama’s position was a cautious but still predominantly positive, and focused specifically on Facebook, student engagement, and the ‘Uni Coffee Shop’ group. Clare Lloyd and Kate Raynes-Goldie argued for the need to be careful about context collapses when using Facebook and to avoid getting stuck in a false choice between Facebook and Blackboard. All in all, the panel and following discussion was in favour of using Facebook in a carefully-informed and well-managed way.

IR13 Friday Session: Protest and Online Activism

October 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

"Class Let's Take a 15 minute break" Nice, class is over!There have been more talks here on activism than it’s been physically possible for me to attend without splitting into two. Friday afternoon’s session on protest and online activism began with a look at ‘Protest and Internet humour memes in UK universities’ from Gordon Fletcher, which was pleasantly LOL-heavy (even if I was missing the appropriate background for many of them). Fletcher argues that while this is politics of a sort (“politics, but not as we know it”), it’s not necessarily particularly effective politics: it’s not going to start any revolutions.

Next Dan Mercea (co-authoring with Paul Nixon) looked at the use of Twitter and Facebook in attempts to recruit participants to the Occupy movement in the Netherlands. Whereas most participants in our research on Occupy Oakland saw Twitter as the primary online platform for communicating about the movement (even if this was often problematic), participants in Netherlands Occupy sites relied far more on Facebook. Mercea and Nixon also found that both Facebook and Twitter played a role in helping participants to initially learn about the Occupy movement, but wasn’t actively used to try to recruit participants. Participants’ use of both Facebook and Twitter also tended to taper off over time, and lost importance as a source of information or engagement with Occupy.

GWEI screenshot

GWEI’s site is eye-bleedingly bright, and the background flashes constantly. You have been warned.

The talks which followed were a little less relevant to my own research (and, sadly, my note-taking seems to drop off significantly towards the end of the day, especially at conferences that involve international travel): Constance Elizabeth Kampf looked at ‘The past, present and future of online activism towards business’, drawing on some great case studies. I particularly liked the Google Will Eat Itself project, which claims it will use revenue generated from Google ads to buy Google shares, and eventually turn Google into a public trust. (GWEI currently owns 819 shares, totalling USD 405.413,19, meaning it will be 202.345.117 years until GWEI fully owns Google.)  Zeena Feldman‘s ‘Beyond freedom and oppression’ looked at practices of resistance to the commodification of the Couchsurfing website, as users tried to continue their engagement without fully capitulating to the site’s shift to for-profit status.

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