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

 

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