Monday, March 28, 2011

A Letter to Facebook

Dear Facebook,

I used to be really disappointed with my district and state for blocking you.  I couldn't understand why such a thing would happen when you are so instrumental in keeping friends and families connected.  Schools are all about friends, families, and connections.  It would only be natural for schools to access and use Facebook as a means to stay connected in their small communities. 

At first I thought it was because of cyberbullying and many adolescents were using Facebook to spread mean-spirited thoughts about others.  But then...I saw your Terms of Use and noticed that you require your users to be socially responsible while using Facebook.
  • You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user. (Rights and Responsibilities)
  • You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence. (Rights and Responsibilities)
  • You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory. (Rights and Responsibilities)
Cyberbullying must not be it, because you make it clear that people must be kind to each other on Facebook.  (Although, can I suggest you state these in the positive, and tell your users what they should do?)  If schools wanted to use your service they could do so knowing that you expect your users to speak to each other nicely.

And then, I thought that may schools were worried that their students would be able to access and/or view advertising and/or adult material on your site.  I can understand this because many adults and businesses use Facebook, and adults can share adult - like content.  But then ... I saw your Terms of Use and noticed that you disallow content like that from being posted on your site. 
  • You will not develop or operate a third-party application containing alcohol-related or other mature content (including advertisements) without appropriate age-based restrictions. (Rights and Responsibilities)
  • You will not offer any contest, giveaway, or sweepstakes ("promotion") on Facebook without our prior written consent. (Rights and Responsibilities)
So mature content must not be the issue either.  I think that its quite clear that you will take down and/or terminate a user's account if they content such as these.  And, what a brilliant idea to include that bit about contests!  This would naturally suck adolescents and younger children in if they were unable to determine the validity of such games.  If schools wanted to use your site they could do so knowing that their students would be free from these bothersome and non-childlike things.

I thought about it some more.  That's when it occurred to me that maybe schools are concerned about online predators.  Particularly as adolescents and pre-teens love to share and can often give away a lot of information (personal and otherwise).  Thus making them easy targets for those lurking behind a screen.  But then...I saw your Terms of Use and noticed that you do not allow sexual predators to use Facebook.
  • You will not use Facebook if you are a convicted sex offender. (Rights and Responsibilities)
  • We reserve the right to add special protections for minors (such as to provide them with an age-appropriate experience) and place restrictions on the ability of adults to share and connect with minors, recognizing this may provide minors a more limited experience on Facebook (Privacy Policy)
  • You will keep your contact information accurate and up-to-date. (Rights and Responsibilities)
Wow!  Not only do you make is safe for children by banning sex offenders, you also require that all users keep their info up-to-date.  What a great way to show that you are up on top of what is being posted on your site!  Not to mention that you have over 2,000 employees to keep on top of all of your users  so, if schools wanted to use Facebook they could feel safe knowing that their students could share without fear.

Now I am stumped.  What ever could be stopping numerous schools from using and unblocking Facebook?  So I took another look at your Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and that's when I realized what may be holding you back.  Okay with 500 million users you may not be weeping, but still...
  • You will not use Facebook if you are under 13. (Rights and Responsibilities)
  •  We strongly recommend that minors 13 years of age or older ask their parents for permission before sending any information about themselves to anyone over the Internet and we encourage parents to teach their children about safe internet use practices. Materials to help parents talk to their children about safe internet use can be found on this help page. (Privacy Policy)
I fear that this may be the sticking point.  You may not be aware of this, but educators are rule followers.  Despite the fact that you have all of those fabulous proactive things in place, because you say that no one under 13 can be on Facebook; they will follow that.  Because you say that parent permission is required for those over 13; they will follow that.

So sad, really.  Here you are a safe place for children to learn, talk, collaborate, and share.  An accessible tool for parents to see what's on their child's mind while at school.  An authentic opportunity for educators to teach students how to behave ethically online.  To teach them how to digitally communicate well.  You are probably aware, as you are a massive part of it, that there is a Social Media Revolution occurring.  Because of this it is more important than ever that we do everything we can to encourage Facebook to be used in schools.  We need to encourage educators to teach students how to use it well.  So that today's students are prepared for tomorrow.

 (This was written with the utmost sincerity.)