Saturday, March 3, 2012

Being Ethical and Using the Social Network

Source: http://investuristic.com/images/learn/ethics/ethics.jpg

Harold Jarche asks an interesting question:
 Is it ethical to force people (over whom you have some power & authority) to use Facebook, a proprietary platform that tracks users & sells their data to third parties?
As I reflect on my own use of social media, I have to admit that I've capitulated...like the iPad research that states that the benefits of the device outweigh the drawbacks, when you're working with Facebook, Twitter, there are just too many benefits to ignore. If the benefits were tools or software, some neat feature we could easily disregard, that would be one thing. It's like deciding to use a Windows computer vs a Linux computer. I can find equivalent features on Linux and use those instead (I'm doing that now).  But the benefits when using social media aren't neat features...PEOPLE are the benefits that we connect with and that are being marketed, harvested, collected, sold to, etc.
...students on the whole will not leave Facebook. A few might for a while, but most will eventually go back. With or without the knowledge of their parents and teachers. Facebook is the way the vast majority of us communicate with each other. Facebook and social media are not going away. If you are concerned about how your children or students are using social media, you must work with them to build critical skills they need to function in today's world and the world of tomorrow. 
Understand that increasingly a person's online reputation now counts as their resume. Studies over the last year have shown that four out of five college admissions officers use Facebook to recruit students and more and more companies are looking at Facebook to find potential employees. Given these growing trends, not having an online presence could hurt a student's chances of getting into the college or career of their choosing. Students cannot wait until they are out of high school to establish or learn to negotiate having an online presence. 
Source: EdTechSandyK, Trying to Ban Facebook is Not the Answer 

When I step back and take a look at Facebook, a part of me wants to pull all my content out of their system, withdraw completely. And, I've done that on several occasions. That's one answer. Still, does it have to be a completely withdrawal from the system, or complete acceptance of it? Can we use Facebook AND not yield up personally identifiable information that is of value to an exploitative company like Facebook?

Unethical behavior means not conforming to approved standards of social or professional behavior (Source). If using Facebook/Twitter and other social networking tools that exchange the benefit of connecting with people by tracking your usage and selling data has become approved social, and increasingly professional, behavior, then can we still say that it is unethical?

A key point in in Harold's question is that of forcing people over whom you have some power and authority to use a social networking service. In my own situation, I have seldom found anyone forced or coerced into using a social network...they either choose to do so because of the benefits (e.g. increased access to people) or not. If they choose not to, the reasons I've heard include that it's just another thing that will complicate their lives, or they don't have time for. Perhaps they don't understand it involves selling their soul?

As a classroom teacher, could I require grade 9-12 students to use Facebook?
"If you want to get help on your homework, you can find me online at Facebook every night between 8:15pm and 9:15pm."
"Ms. Peel," asked one student, "I can't get to Facebook because my Mom didn't pay our cable bill."
"If you can't get to me on Facebook," replies Ms. Peel, "you can come in early for tutoring. Here's a pass."
Of course, we could have this conversation about Edmodo, Schoology, etc. or any of those web-based solutions. What information are they collecting about users, schools and school districts and how is that data used to benefit them?

But Facebook and other social networks are different. Establishing a beachhead on those involves trying to reach MORE people who are already on Facebook, who have already chosen to be exploited to obtain the benefit of increased access to family and friends. Since they are already online, what's an educator to do except throw in the towel and join his students?

After all, Facebook is social...and approved behavior. It's not unethical to use it if you choose to, and if you're encouraging young adults--especially college students--to make the decision to create a Facebook account, what a teachable moment. It's an opportunity to discuss what Harold is suggesting may be  unethical.

Harold asks us, For those of us who understand these technologies, are we doing a disservice by not promoting a free & open web? 

The answer is, are professors and teachers who don't understand how to setup their own Moodle or Sakai server really incapable of understanding the choice? Don't they understand that if they get a Facebook account, that it is the equivalent of accepting a free car with advertising painted on one side and having to listen to company jingles while they drive? And, if they are OK with that, then so be it. If enough people are doing it, at what point does Facebook become socially acceptable?

As I reflect on this, it's clear that organizations need to spend some time discussing their approach:


  1. Bring professors and students together, and pose Harold's initial question.
  2. Collect responses, and identify whether professor and students know about how Facebook exploits their data.
  3. Ask students if they'd rather use Facebook or an in-house solution (e.g. Moodle/Sakai) in lieu of Facebook. 
  4. Develop an alternative solution for those who choose to NOT use Facebook.
  5. Vote on the decision to whether use Facebook or the alternative solution. 
  6. Implement the decision.
Is that too simple an approach? Will a vote in step #5 above result in winners and losers, losers who will be forced to be exploited? Is it possible to alternate class activities so that both solutions are available as choices to groups of students rather than ONE way to get activities accomplished?

What am I missing?


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2 comments:

EdTechSandyK said...

Miguel, thanks for quoting from my blog post! Just to clarify, that was written in the context of addressing a school which is recommending that parents pull their students OFF of Facebook for personal use.

Regarding the question of is it ethical to require use of Facebook in education, especially K-12, I would say no because there are a minority of people who choose not to or who do not have access outside of school. (Although a recent Tweet from TCEA said 50% of adults in the U.S. now own smartphones; I think access will continue to become less and less of an issue over time.)

I do not think Facebook, Twitter, or any publicly available commercial service should be the sole means of communication or interaction with a K-12 institution or teacher. I think they can be powerful portals because so many parents and students are already there, but they should be supplemental.

If schools are serious about communicating with and/or teaching students online, they need to provide teacher websites and/or services like Edmodo or Moodle or Epsilen/Project Share (in Texas) that are accessible to all and not mining user data for commercial purposes.

There will always be issues with someone not having access or reliable access. Teachers must be prepared to accommodate students in those situations, just as they have worked with kids for decades who have lacked materials/support due to various home situations.

Miguel Guhlin said...

Sandy, just say I quoted you out of context! (smile)

I thought what you had to say particularly relevant--the inevitability of these tools mean that resisting their use after K-12 educators have long been silent on their use, without a viable alternative is difficult.

I agree with your other points, although I don't think Facebook use in grades 13+ is unethical...at that point, we are dealing with adults who can reason, even though their risk assessment centers are impaired by youth.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure