Facing The Reality of Facebook

A response to Julie Newton regarding her open letter about the use of Facebook.

Photo Credit: R_grandmorin Flickr via Compfight cc

Dear Mrs. Newton,

Recently you have shared your opinion surrounding the use of Facebook in the classroom. I thank you for sharing this opinion, and stating your concerns, as this is the only way for us to progress as a whole. I did however want to bring about a different perspective to compliment your letter.

The first point I want to highlight is the idea of censorship, and the success of it in the past. Internet freedom has has been a hot topic recently, as each country has slightly different laws with varying levels of strictness. We live in the luxury of North America where our version of the internet lacks mass censorship, where we have the freedom to express ourselves and utilize this massive tool’s potential. This also means that there is a lack of control over appropriate/inappropriate usage. Countries like China manage to control their citizenship’s usage of the internet through the use of a massive firewall, essentially creating a small version of the internet just for China. This argument of who should control the internet, or if the internet should be controlled/censored, is not the debate I am looking to get into at the moment. I did however want to highlight this idea: we cannot enjoy the benefits of both internet freedom, and internet censorship/control.

Yes, it would be possible for us to block Facebook from the school computers. Quite easy actually, too easy to be successful. See the issue is that if we blocked something like Facebook, one of two things would occur:

  1. The students would find another way in. Just like many us you use a proxy or some other back end trick to watch American Netflix in Canada, the students can and will find a way to access Facebook despite our efforts. This is very possible, and not incredibly hard, but it does involve some effort which might deter them from attempting this. However, if bypassing the firewall is out of the image, then the next point comes in…
  2. The next MySpace will surface! Anyone remember using MySpace? The reason we don’t hear much about it anymore is because of Facebook. This new service dominated MySpace, and stole the social dominance to become the biggest social network on the internet today. While it might not occur at this same level, if we block Facebook, chances are the students will move to twitter, or snapchat, or the next upcoming social network.

To coincide with this problem around censorship, I would also like to consider your point about cyber bullying. When overt racism because culturally unacceptable, and was generally outlawed in society, did racism cease to exist? No! Instead it went under the radar into a more systematic style of racism, a commonsensical version that hides behind society and pretends to be something we support. If we ban Facebook, Ask.FM, Snapchat, and all of these services known for issues surrounding cyber bullying, it will not stop that. If anything, it will get worst because everything will fall under the public radar, manifesting in these newer services that we are unaware of. So similar to our inability to effectively ban Facebook, we also can’t effectively make cyber bullying disappear, and if anything this will cause it to become worst.

Now, with all of this, I am not saying we should ignore the issue. Instead, I think that we need to move away from this push against change. Facebook-like services have reached the point of inevitability in society, and classroom is just a mirror image of society itself. As Jeff Coopwood once said, “Resistance is futile!”, and thus we should begin embracing this service instead. Cyber bullying, digital citizenship, appropriate use of technology and media, are all topics that need to receive further education, not less! Face to face interaction is important, and it still occurs plenty in the classroom. But with the addition of online collaboration through Google Apps, and online media and messaging through Facebook, we can supercharge that face-to-face interaction with the ability to continue work at home. Maybe a student is from across town and is suppose to meet with their classmate to discuss a story, or work on a project. Previously if the student could only travel once or twice a week, the group would only work once or twice a week. Now with this ability to video chat or message on Facebook, these students can be in constant discussion, and afterwards head straight into work using a Google document. While Facebook might not always be appropriate in the classroom, when used for school work it can be an incredibly powerful tool to compliment more traditional ways of learning.

Lastly, with the online presence of Teachers, I find this to be a bit of a harder topic to approach. In the article you linked, the teacher was careless with her usage of social media, and made public images and language that she did not intend to. In general, I believe that everything on Facebook should be considered public, no matter how locked down and secure you have your account. However, I do not have an answer about the alcohol or questionable content within profile pictures. This is a substance that many people consume in a casual, safe matter outside of work, and I am not sure if I would consider a simple picture to be enough to reprimand a teacher. In the case you posted, the argument was binge drinking because she had a glass of wine and a glass of beer, but what if she was just holding her friend’s glass while the picture was getting taken? In the end society is heading in this over-regulated direction, and so I think educators just have to be careful with their social media, keeping tabs on what is posted on their timelines. I still question whether or not educators should have their social lives punished because of their job and role however…why can you go out for a nice dinner with wine and your significant other, but if a teacher does it society would consider it a bad influence? Overall, I agree that the teachers themselves should not be using Facebook in the classroom, and really they have no reason to. Usage of Facebook does not imply the teacher will befriend all of the students, it just means that students are encouraged to use this service to collaborate on assignments, seek homework help, etc…in a way that teaches them appropriate use of the service.

We live in a digital, technological world, where many people are finding themselves lost in this new reality. As a society, if we do not want to get left behind, we have to learn to adapt and integrate these new forms of media. Change is coming, and it is inevitable. The question is, are you prepared to embrace it?

Sincerely,

Webster Fox

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