Facebook Is Unfit for Educational Use

Accessibility 4 All by Claude Almansi
Due to Ning’s decision to go pay-only on June 1 (see End of Free Ning Networks: Live Online Discussion: Apr. 20), some educational networks are moving from Ning to Facebook, for instance, College 2.0. However, Facebook is unfit for educational use in several respects.


Facebook’s privacy is notoriously dismal, as Britt Wattwood pointed out in Yes or No on Facebook | Learning In a Flat World. See also Delete Your Facebook Account: “Quit Facebook Day” Wants Users to Leave by Catharine Smith (Huffington Post, 2010-05-15) and Graham Cluley’s 60% of Facebook users consider quitting over privacy on his Sophos blog (2010-05-19). According to Cluley’s survey, 16% of users have already quit for that reason. True, Ning’s privacy is bad too, but if you have to move to another platform, it makes sense to choose one where privacy is better.

No back-up

You cannot back up  the contents of Facebook groups. This is also true of Ning networks, but at least you can archive public Ning content with Webcite®. With Facebook content, Webcite® will apparently work, but the “archived” page says:

You are using an incompatible web browser.
Sorry, we’re not cool enough to support your browser. Please keep it real with one of the following browsers:

  • Mozilla Firefox
  • Safari
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer

Arbitrary application of Terms of Use (TOU)

A. Arbitrary deletion/block of legitimate content

Facebook deleted the group People’s Resistance (which unites various Pakistani human rights initiatives and associations) as a “hateful group” on October 12, 2009. The Facebook page of a Swiss radio series was geoblocked by Facebook in Tunisia because the series dedicated a broadcast to human rights issues in Tunisia. And there are other similar incidents. For an analysis of these deletions/blocks aimed at information and human rights sites and activists, see Rebecca MacKinnon’s More problems in Facebookistan, 2010-05-29 (see also “Summing up” below).

B. Abetting hate mongering

Vice-versa, Facebook administrators’ obdurate refusal to delete the Everybody Draw Mohammed Day page, in blatant contradiction of point 3.7 (“You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.”) in their TOU, has led to:

  • Seriously offending all Muslims and everybody convinced that all religious convictions deserve respect
  • The blanket block of Facebook – and YouTube, Wikipedia and hundreds of sites mentioning that page – in Pakistan; this block was gradually lifted, with the one on Facebook the last to go on May 31, 2010. But meanwhile other Muslim countries – Bangladesh for instance – started banning Facebook too.
  • Violence against human rights advocates like Dr. Awab Alvi who – though he unambiguously condemned Facebook’s abetting of the scatological, pornographic and otherwise offensive caricatures – requested the lift of its ban in Pakistan (see Critics of Facebook Ban Face Nasty Battle by Farieha Aziz, Newsline, 2010-05-21).

As to the last point, by abetting the hate-mongering of the Everybody Draw Mohammed Day page and thus reinforcing fundamentalism, Facebook bears a responsibility in the massacres at two Ahmedi mosques in Lahore on May 28, 2010:

I make the direct link of this attack with the pressure gained by islamists from the FB drawing of the prophet saga. The strategists must have thought that the emotion stirred up by the Drawings can be re-ignited and re-used. They must have thought that after this brazen attack on ahmedis, when people willl be forced to take a side, they will be forced to take the side against the ahmedis.
It is a deliberate attempt to hijack the public into being more fundamentalist than they are.
Still I believe that after all the bloodshed that we have been seeing, we the public are even more sick of the bloodthirst and murder with which these people are staining the name of the prophet and islam. once again it is our moment to talk to people and expose this inhuman ungodly irreligious behaviour that we must condemn in one voice.
Do we need more violence done on the prophet. (Yasir Husain, message to the People’s Resistance mailing list, 2005-05-29, quoted with his permission)


Based on the following quote from Interview: Administrator Says “Draw Muhammad Day” Facebook Group “Decided to Draw the Line” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty 2010-05-21), Facebook’s abetting of hate-mongering seems grounded in business cynicism more than in anti-Muslim convictions:

RFE/RL: Has Facebook contacted you?
Freiheit: Oh yeah, but not in a negative way. They’ve just tried to verify that we are who we said we are. So we had to make a blog – because the initial information, basically, was [attributed] to Molly Norris [a Seattle cartoonist who drew a poster of a fictional group, Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor, declaring May 20 “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day”], and she [later] left the group [and withdrew from the campaign], so we had to just change that. But anything else than that, no. I know the group’s been reported like 100,000 times, but Facebook did not block the entire thing, like Google would have done, or whoever else cares more about money than civil rights. . . . I think it was because . . . our earlier moderators’ accounts got hacked and they had to verify, because suddenly one of the guys, instead of logging in from Madrid, was logging in from Karachi, Pakistan. And you don’t move 5,000 miles in an hour.
RFE/RL: Have you received any direct threats?
Freiheit: No, not me personally. I haven’t received any threats to my person. They don’t know my name. But we’ve received general threats to the admins and moderators of the group. But we take measures. . . . We have fake accounts. . . . We have proxies on our Internet and stuff.

Over 100’000 Muslim-haters, whose concept of witty defense of free speech stops at turds, pigs and sodomy, and who let themselves be herded by people with ludicrous war names like “Andy Freiheit,” must have seemed a target group for ads worth forgetting about TOU’s prohibition of hate mongering at first.

However, Facebook managers belatedly realized that Muslim users in general also make up an important part of their market, apparently. Hence their recent decision to geoblock the Everybody Draw Mohammed Day page in India and to “consider IP blocking in Pakistan after further review of local regulations, standards and customs” (Facebook Blocks Access in India to Controversial Page, John Ribeiro, IDG News, PC World, 2010-05-24).  In plain language: “We’ll do nothing to block people who offend your faith but we’ll blindfold you so you can’t see the offenses.” Not a very appealing proposal.

Summing up

In the comments to Rebecca MacKinnon’s above-mentioned More problems in Facebookistan, Barry Schnitt – Director, Policy Communications, Facebook –  attempted to present Facebook’s banning/blocking policy as transparent and appealable.

While this attempt left other commentators politely unconvinced, Rebecca MacKinnon invited him and his colleagues to join “the Global Network Initiative (globalnetworkinitiative.org), a multi-stakeholder initiative which brings together companies, human rights groups, socially responsible investors, and academics in an effort to help Internet companies uphold core principles of free expression and privacy.”

Let’s watch the Participants page of the Global Network Initiative. If Facebook accepts the invitation, the situation might change. Presently, however, the issues described above – people leaving FB over privacy issues,  blocked by FB or by their government, disgusted by FB’s arbitrary enforcement and non-enforcement of its TOU, impossibility to archive content, etc. – make Facebook an unfit tool for educational projects.

5 Responses

  1. Claude, I wonder if SN providers such as FB are aware of the opportunity that’s in front of them. SN services that are committed to staying completely free for users ought to begin filling the vacuum by providing services similar to Ning’s at no cost. This “new” service could be called FaceBook Pro (FBP) and devoted to a Ning-like structure.

    Those who have abandoned Ning or are chafing at the cost would flock to FBP, leaving Ning high and dry.

    Of course, it doesn’t have to be FB. It could be any number of other providers.

    The same profit-mongering is happening with WordPress. What were once free or inexpensive services are now climbing in cost. Again, this is an opportunity for blogging providers that are committed to free services. Services such as Google’s Blogger could add the sorts of features that made WP popular and draw bloggers away from WP.

    In the absence of commercial SN providers willing to offer free services, the nonprofit sector could step into the vacuum. This is an opportunity for educational organizations to embrace and fully support sophisticated SNs, making them available to faculty, students, and the community at no cost.

    As an open project supported by institutions around the world, this idea could fly. Funding wouldn’t be much of an issue if administrators earmarked less for capital improvements (buildings, maintenance, construction, utilities, etc.) and more for internet infrastructure, resources, and staff.

    If we, as educators, choose to look at schools and colleges as locations for 21st century communication that’s educative, then powerful SNs may be the next big step, transforming campuses into free and open virtual SNs. -Jim S

  2. Great suggestions, Jim. In fact several non-profit alternatives to Facebook have emerged as a consequence of Facebook’s irresponsible condoning of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. For instance MillatFacebook, which has been so successful it had to upgrade its server after a few days.

    So this kind of SN might be OK for publicizing a project without the exclusions inherent to Facebook itself. However not as the only tool for a project: one problem with Ning was the temptation to put all your eggs in the same basket. Steve Hargadon, though he was very influential in the adoption of Ning SNs for education, always used several tools for his projects: see the “More” menu in his Classroom 2.0 Ning network

    The “all your eggs in the same basket” issue was already with MSN communities -> groups. And when MSN closed them and offered the possibility to migrate them to Multiply, even though Multiply permitted very similar groups, many did not survive: people are more likely to adapt to a new tool if they are already using several ones.

  3. Claude, good point! Openness always wins in the end. Hopefully, educational systems will learn to adopt a more open policy toward the incorporation and adoption of multiple “outside” SN tools by users, breaking the dependence on all-in-one CMSs that invariably come up short in terms of individual apps and features.

    I’ve always felt that the internet is the largest SN in the universe and that individual SNs are puny and limited in comparison. In time, we’ll all be able to tinker together our own SN interfaces, tapping into the nearly unlimited power of the internet. -Jim S

  4. May I go off on a tangent off your last paragraph, Jim?

    I like the way you say “the internet is the largest SN in the universe” – it reminds me of a recent conversation with someone who was already conceiving “distance training with IT” in Switzerland in the mid 90’s :

    He: “I was teaching a group of students the other day. A bunch of addicts to twitter and facebook and all kinds of Web 2.0 stuff. So I asked them what online tool they’d use for the project we are preparing. You’ll never guess their answer.”
    Me: “Mailing-list?”
    He: “Yes – how did you guess?”
    Me: “Several projects I know use mailing-lists as a main interaction tool. Then they use facebook to publicize the project, twitter if they urgently need to let the external world know in real time what’s happening, a wiki if they have to co-write stuff, youtube if they have videos to post, and a blog if they need some kind of online bulletin. But the mailing list they often started with remains their favorite means for planning things together.”

    Actually, I’m not sure I understand why a mailing list on a platform where you can make a profile and have an RSS feed is considered as “Web 1.0” and not “Web 2.0”. And probably it doesn’t matter at all.

  5. Claude, this statement of yours captures, in a nutshell, the vast power of the internet: “Several projects I know use mailing-lists as a main interaction tool. Then they use facebook to publicize the project, twitter if they urgently need to let the external world know in real time what’s happening, a wiki if they have to co-write stuff, youtube if they have videos to post, and a blog if they need some kind of online bulletin. But the mailing list they often started with remains their favorite means for planning things together.”

    I should’ve been clearer in my use of the word “internet.” For me, it’s the whole enchilada, everything, including web 2.0, listservs, email, wikis, etc. This is what makes it the biggest SN in the world. And your quote above is an example of just how one person has set up her SN in the internet instead of a single app such as Ning. -Jim S

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