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Facebook Frustrations

By Joan Rhodes
 | Apr 20, 2018

Facebook FrustrationsThis week’s nightly technology news was alarming.  After learning that Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook, was going to speak before Congress regarding the data breach that impacted an estimated 87 million Facebook users, I fully expected to see that my private data had been collected by Cambridge Analytica. After all, my information has been hacked at a medical facility and two retailers so far this year.

The positive news is that, because of this, my free credit monitoring has been in effect for almost a full year at no cost. I thought I had dodged a bullet by avoiding the This is Your Digital Life app. Unfortunately, as I continued reading an article titled, “How can I tell if my info was shared with Cambridge Analytica?” I learned that one of my Facebook “friends” had logged into the app prior to its 2015 removal from Facebook. All I could think was, what does this mean for my data? Where is my data?

According to Facebook’s investigators, “As a result, the following information was likely shared with This Is Your Digital Life:” my public profile, page likes, birthday, and current city. If that wasn’t enough to get my blood boiling, Facebook also noted that “A small number of people who logged into This Is Your Digital Life also shared their own news feed, timeline, posts and messages, which may have included posts and messages from you. They may also have shared your hometown.” (Click here to see what Facebook considers your public profile. You will be surprised.)

Am I the only one frustrated by this turn of events? I think not, and this feeling was confirmed when I looked at my own news feed and found several of my friends contemplating whether they should follow the 10% of U.S. Facebook users who have already closed their accounts. I’m sure I'm not alone in wondering if our opinions and political views have been impacted by the use of our personal data. (Click here for more information on how Facebook used research and established models to sway thinking.)

Like many social media users, I generally believe that whatever I post is fair game for sharing and that complete privacy is a thing of the past. But this data breach has me wondering about how young students may be impacted by the unregulated sharing of personal information by social media companies. A 2014 Pew Research Center report found that “91% of Americans ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that people have lost control over how personal information is collected and used,” and that 80% are “concerned about advertisers and businesses accessing the data they share on social media platforms.”  Moreover, roughly half of U.S. residents believe that neither social media sites nor the government will protect their privacy. So, why do we continue to use sites that put our privacy at risk?

Lee Rainie, director of internet and technology research at Pew Research Center, notes that U.S. residents have a complex relationship with social media. We are hesitant to give up the ability to stay connected with our friends and have come to rely on social media sites to make life efficient. Nonetheless, as educators, we have a responsibility to understand how to protect privacy for both ourselves and our students. So, what can we do?

Short of joining the #DeleteFacebook movement, educators should demonstrate how to use Facebook’s new centralized page to update security/privacy settings and read (and share with students) articles that provide practical tips for protection. Recommendations include deleting birthdates, phone numbers, and other personal information as well as eliminating bad habits like tagging your home location and inadvertently sharing your address with the public. For more general advice, Common Sense Education offers lesson plans, cheat sheets, social media tips, privacy evaluation tools, and more to help students learn and practice responsible digital citizenship. Whatever tactic you choose, monitoring your identifiable information is critically important in this technology-driven world.

Joan Rhodes is an associate professor of reading and early/elementary education at Virginia Commonwealth University.

This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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