Facebook continues to dominate school communications, despite parental concern

September 24, 2018 — by Neeti Badve and Sandhya Sundaram
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The use of Facebook in schools.

On March 21, Mark Zuckerberg broke his silence and admitted that his company accidentally allowed the biggest user data breach in internet history. Since 2014, the political firm Cambridge Analytica had been collecting private information from over 87 million Facebook members, attempting to influence voter opinion in favor of their own candidates, people including Ted Cruz and President Donald Trump.

It left Facebook users shocked and scared about the fate of their personal data on the internet, forcing people to consider how their daily lives and even personalities could be influenced if strangers could gain access to their personal account information. Taking a more wary stance on their internet activity, people all across the world have deleted accounts, attempting to wipe any trace of their Facebook use.


School expectations, realities

Students and teachers of Saratoga High use Facebook to spread class information, receive updates for extracurricular activities, and help each other with homework. Although the school does not explicitly require students to create Facebook accounts, many students choose to for the convenience of receiving information and staying up to date in classes and organizations.

The school itself has a Facebook group with 911 members in which Leadership posts announcements about school dances, rallies, Homecoming or boba fundraisers. Clubs and students also post on the group. Additionally, grade levels have Facebook groups for information specific to their class.

Some academic classes, like the Media Arts Program, The Falcon newspaper staff and the marching band have Facebook groups that enable easy communication of reminders, announcements and photos.

Extracurricular activities and clubs also have Facebook groups for sports, Benefit Fashion Show, Bombay in the Bay and Homecoming dances.

And many students create separate groups without teachers or adults to facilitate discussions regarding homework and advice.

All of this means students are hard pressed to be part of the school community without a Facebook account.

Junior Allen Chang often relies on Facebook homework help groups to keep track of assignments and to get advice from others. Chang likes the layout and design of the website, which makes it simple and intuitive to use.

“It’s one of the best designed websites out there, and because it’s very well designed and aesthetically pleasing, a lot of people want to use it,” Chang said.

Chang said that he does not see the benefit of school groups using any other platform since most people have Facebook accounts and are familiar with the interface. Chang also attributes students’ reliance on Facebook to procrastination.

“Writing in planners takes a lot of work and no one wants to do it,” Chang said. “I wouldn’t say it’s easier [to use Facebook to get homework], but it’s a natural tendency for people to procrastinate.”

Unlike Chang, as a personal preference, senior Asha Kar chose not to create a Facebook account to avoid the numerous distractions. With Facebook’s ads, memes, Messenger and posts, she thinks the site can be a huge time sink. To limit herself from these distractions, Kar uses only Instagram. Kar also prefers to have stronger privacy settings, something Facebook cannot guarantee.

“People might get too much information about me, and I’m not a very open person,” Kar said.

Users also have to worry about viruses, which have plagued Facebook since its creation and continue to return. September marked the second time this year that the Facebook video virus has appeared. Created in 2013, this virus sends users a link with their profile picture and a supposed YouTube video of themselves. If users click on the link, they can potentially download malware onto their device, passing the virus on to their Facebook friends through Messenger.

According to 2-SpyWare.com, users received anywhere from one to 10 malicious video links a day, and the only way to stay safe was to delete the conversation every time.

Junior Liviya Katz fell for this scam when she received a Facebook message from a friend. Thinking that her friend was trying to share a video, Katz tried opening the link on multiple devices, wondering why it was so suspicious. Finally, the link prompted her to sign in to her Facebook account, revealing her username and password.

“I found it to be really sketchy, but it was personalized with my name and little emojis,” Katz said. “I think that’s what got me.”

This situation spurred many awkward explanations for Katz. The virus sent the same message to about 35 of Katz’s Facebook contacts, including her uncle, her cousin, a friend’s mom and many people she had not spoken to in years.

Besides simply awkward situations, these scams can reveal personal information to third parties.

Sophomore Anya Jobalia also became a victim to the virus after clicking on the link.

“It sent the link with the shocking face emojis to so many of my Facebook friends, and I had to post that I had gotten hacked to warn anyone who could have gotten it from me,” Jobalia said.

Because of concerns like these, other high schools in the area have given up or limited Facebook use over the years, yet Saratoga High continues to rely on it for communications, even with growing concern from parents because of Facebook’s controversial privacy practices.

Having used technology like Google Classroom or Schoology at Redwood Middle School, freshman Linnea Bradley expected that high school would be similar. Bradley’s parents were hesitant when they found out that Bradley would need a Facebook account for coordinating extracurriculars, receiving help for homework, and receiving information from teachers and students about a class.

“My dad doesn’t really like Facebook and he deleted his account,” Bradley said. “He thought they were tracking him and they may know too much about him.”

Bradley wound up getting a Facebook account to make sure that she would receive information about school events, but took precautions like not giving out personal information such her school or her actual birthday to the website.

In addition to all the groups that use Facebook, some teachers have come to rely on it as well..Citing ease as his primary reason, English teacher Jason Friend encourages his AP Language students to join a Facebook group to share articles, videos, class announcements and anything related to course material.

“It is an easy way of sharing information that often gets to people in a way that Canvas doesn’t, since people don’t check their emails anymore,” Friend said.

Although he has considered switching to other sites, Friend said he has found himself valuing Facebook’s efficiency.

“Students use so many different platforms, but Facebook has been around long enough that the saturation of everybody essentially having an account makes it useful,” Friend said. “The minute you go to a different platform you lose what’s most useful.”

Because switching to a new platform presents problems, many teachers avoid doing so.

Like many other teachers, Friend uses his Facebook group as a communication channel, considering it the quickest and easiest way to reach his students.

Recently, though, some groups and classes have taken the leap away from Facebook.The robotics team is trying an interface called Slack, a cloud-based system released in 2013. With a messaging system similar to Facebook Messenger, Slack emphasizes collaboration and team-based projects, while also guaranteeing privacy.

AP Computer Science teacher Thomas Wang uses Piazza, a Q&A web service. Founded in 2009, it serves as a combination of a forum and a wiki to contribute to the overall learning experience of students.

Fremont High School uses text messaging and Instagram rather than Facebook to get information out to students because most have a phone number and account already.

The school asks students to enter a number and text a specific code to it, subscribing users to updates on high school events. The school itself has an Instagram account where it displays pictures and announcements of school games or activities.

Groups within Fremont High use Instagram to communicate, creating accounts for groups such as cheer, choir and dance, which members will then follow for updates.  

The Harker School heavily uses Schoology for spreading classroom information.

Despite  various social interfaces come into use the Saratoga campus, Facebook continues to dominate as the primary source of information for students.

Even as a schoolwide interface with an announcements feature, Canvas takes a backseat to Facebook because it does not allow students to make announcements to their fellow peers. There is no feature for students to create and post to their own groups, which makes it useless to students intending to send out a message.

Although Facebook continues to be the dominant player in social media, the Cambridge Analytica scandal serves as a reminder to students, both incoming and veteran, of the importance of exercising caution with it.

“It’s just made me think twice about anything I do on Facebook because I don’t want to risk any of my personal information getting in the wrong hands again,” Jobalia said.


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