What’s going on with Facebook?

Facebook has been in the news quite a lot recently, there have been allegations, investigations and corporate reshuffles. In case you have missed things, or have lost track of the story, here are the main points:

Facebook started life in 2004 as a social network app aiming to connect students at Harvard College. The name Facebook referred to the student directories often given to American university students containing student details and a portrait photo - a literal book or faces.

From there it expanded first to use across other US universities and eventually to the general public.

Facebook was the name of the application itself but also of the company that owned and operated it.
Like many tech corporations, Facebook the company grew not just through gaining more users but also through the buying of other tech companies and acquiring their expertise, software, applications and services.
In fact Facebook has acquired in the region of 90 companies since its inception, the most recognisable perhaps being Instagram, WhatsApp and virtual reality company Oculus.
You can find a complete list here, if you are interested in digging further.

Often the technology acquired has been rolled into the main Facebook application, though some of the more stand-alone applications such as Instagram retained their own branding with a small addition that refereed to them being owned by Facebook.

While Facebook is a strong brand this all makes sense, but things are changing.

The corporation ‘Facebook’ recently announced it was renaming and rebranding to ‘Meta’.
There are many reasons for a corporation to rebrand, here are perhaps some of the things which have led to this particular decision

1. Falling adoption

The Facebook application has for some time had a problem attracting younger users, in fact the ‘ageing population’ of the Facebook user base is well documented. I’ll bet if you ask your pupils they’ll tell you Facebook is what their parents or even grandparents use, but it’s not really for them.
Younger people have traditionally been an important driver in the rate of adoption and use of new technologies and so maintaining the ‘Facebook’ branding may well put off younger users from new services if they associate the branding with the activities of their elders.
For this reason, it’s easy to omit Facebook from discussions on online safety within schools, but as we’ve stated, Facebook has its fingers in lots of pies, many of which are very popular with young people. Maybe the rebranding to ‘Meta’ opens up the possibility for discussion, especially when understanding the various applications and how they can share data between them.

Further reading

2. Controversy

Almost since the very start, Facebook has courted controversy. Early on these were often about business practices, intellectual property wrangles or the personal and business relationships of the most well-known founder and figurehead Mark Zuckerberg. However, there have also been a fair amount of accusations and legal actions around things which should concern us more from a safeguarding and online safety stand point.

There have been numerous privacy issues, including the leaking of data and the corporate use of personal data by third parties. The case of Cambridge Analytica and it’s use of the personal data of 87 million Facebook users in its political marketing activities is one of the more well-known incidents. You can read more about that here

In addition, accusations of corporate practices leading to psychological harm, societal instability, tax avoidance, advertising fraud and dissemination of harmful fake news among others have tarnished the Facebook brand.

Recently an internal report showed that the company itself was aware of the potential harm its Instagram service was doing to teenage girls in particular. One slide in the report received a great deal of attention as it appeared to confirm the company knew that one in three teenage girls who had already experienced body-image issues stated that using Instagram made them feel worse. Specifically, the use of filtered images, posting selfies and viewing content with hashtags affected their well-being.

With reference to this and other corporate practices, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen recently alleged the social media giant put profit before user safety while answering questions from a UK parliament Joint Committee.

In time it’s likely that the wealth generation aspects of the company will move further away from the Facebook application itself and more towards its other brands and applications and so it makes sense to disassociate these from the Facebook name.

Further reading

3. The Metaverse

In the glitzy event to announce the rebranding of the Facebook corporation to ‘Meta’, Mark Zuckerberg introduced his vision on the ‘Metaverse’ - a social network expanded with virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D spaces which “will let you socialize [sic], learn, collaborate and play in ways that go beyond what we can imagine”.

This ‘vision’ instantly had commentators likening the idea to the concept of the ‘OASIS’ from the novel and movie ‘Ready Player One’ and has led to some speculation, some wild and some more reasoned, as to the potential future of social networking. The premium fear being that Zuckerberg and his colleagues failed to comprehend the dystopian theme of the story which has highlighted the dangers of giving up real life, for an existence in a corporate controlled virtual existence.

The ‘metaverse’ concept is not new and like many of the ideas which have propelled Facebook to its position of one of the richest tech companies in the world, was not originated by Mark Zuckerberg or his colleagues. Indeed, platforms such as Secondlife, have been around since the beginning of the century, but there is something about the current level of reach and adoption of Facebook (now Meta), that suggests we might be in for a major leap in adoption.
Additionally, by naming the company ‘Meta’ the association or even allusion that it somehow ‘owns’ the metaverse is somewhat of a shrewd business move.

Further reading

As ever, it’s not really possible to discuss Facebook/Meta or indeed social networks in general and conclude with any certainty as to whether they are a net good or evil. One thing is for certain, there are definitely dangers and problems which we need to ensure people are aware of and we need to equip ourselves with the abilities to detect, understand and neutralise; be that privacy concerns, scams or psychological harms.

This article has sought merely to contextualise the current state of Facebook/Meta and we intend to do some deeper dives into some of the areas raised in subsequent articles.

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on December 01, 2021 17:57

Have your say: Social Media and Young People

Is social media a dangerous risk to young people or a powerful support network? Have your say

Social IconsIn the last few days, there have been a number of stories reported in the press - with conflicting messages about the impact of social media use on the lives of young people.

The latest round of news began with an announcement from the Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri. Facebook-owned Instagram is going to test hiding "like" counts as a way to make "a less pressurized environment" on the app. This feature comes as part of efforts at Instagram to combat online bullying which is said to plague younger users of the platform.

Social media firms have been under increased pressure from the government to tackle the risks posed online, and this was supported by an announcement by Candida Reece, of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), who this week tabled a motion at the union’s annual conference committing it to a campaign for the introduction of a statutory duty of care to protect children from online harms and toughen age verification checks. She added that social media firms should face a levy to pay schools for teaching children traumatised online.

However, in a small study of participants aged 11 to 18, it would seem that teenagers do not necessarily perceive potential risks on social media as such. On the matter of online abuse, it was reported that "many children doubted there would be any serious consequences for social media abusers. The report suggested that teenagers might not report online abuse because they often don't see it as a problem"

At the same time, TalkTalk's Teenage Loneliness and Technology Report revealed that half of teenagers believe that social media and the internet makes them feel less lonely. Conversely, just a few days later, results from a study of 12,000 UK adolescents revealed that the use of social media had little effect on the well-being and life satisfaction of teenagers.

Have your say

Have you had experience of social media being a positive or negative influence in your school? Do you agree that it can be a source of support for young people? How do you teach your pupils to avoid the potential risks associated with social media? Let us know your thoughts and suggestions using the comments section below.

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on May 09, 2019 10:35

Have your say: Internet Crazes

When the Internet and social media turns a fad into a global craze

Momo HoaxWhen I was growing up, I remember countless fads and trends that came and went, either in the confines of school or within my group of friends at home. We could be trying to learn the latest cool trick with our ‘YoYos’, arming ourselves with plastic lemons full of water (our teachers hated that one!), skateboarding, scrambling on bicycles not built for the rough stuff and many more harmless activities that occupied us for a couple of months until the next big ‘thing’ came along.

It’s fair to say, and I think you’ll agree, that there was nothing particularly dangerous or sinister about our childhood fads (apart from those, maybe, that experimented with smoking or alcohol); however, in these days of social media, the historically innocent world of fads and crazes appears to have found a much darker and frankly disturbing format that worryingly some children appear to be compelled to follow.

In recent years, one of the most high-profile online crazes was the furore surrounding the Internet meme ‘Slenderman’ - a fictional supernatural character that was created on a horror Internet forum as part of a competition whereby users were asked to edit existing, everyday photographs to make them appear paranormal. The original poster submitted two black and white images of a group of children and added an abnormally tall and thin, phantom-like figure, in a black suit with no distinguishable facial features - this became known as the ‘Slenderman’. The whole phenomenon went viral on various social media, with a whole wealth of new photographs and stories appearing daily and it wasn’t long before claims were being made that the character was, in fact, real. In May 2014, however, two girls in Wisconsin took the phenomenon to a whole different, macabre level. When they allegedly took a twelve-year-old classmate to woods near their home and stabbed her 19 times, saying to the authorities later that they had attempted to commit a murder in order to become ‘proxies’ of the ‘Slenderman’ - their victim survived.

Another craze started out as a drinking game in Australia. The original idea of the game, which was given the title of ‘Neknominate’ or ‘Neck and Nominate’ was to ‘neck’ an alcoholic drink (usually a pint of beer) and then nominate others to do the same. When comments, images and videos of ‘Neknominate’ participants started to appear on social media platforms it again went quickly viral. The problems with these crazes come when the competitive spirit of some the potential participants takes hold and they consequently raise the level of the challenges. In the case of ‘Neknominate’, it was alleged that five people died as a consequence of the challenges - one participant fatally downed a pint of vodka, whilst another died after reportedly mixing an entire bottle of wine, a quarter bottle of whiskey and a can of lager and ‘necking’ the lot!

Thankfully, some good did come out of this irresponsible craze when a group of South Africans decided to turn it on its head and challenged others to carry out random acts of kindness for others - these also spread virally and picked up such titles as ‘Feed the Deed’ in Canada and ‘SmartNominate’ in France, which encouraged people taking part to give food to the homeless or donate blood.

Unfortunately, it would appear that the spread of crazy and downright dangerous pursuits over social media shows no signs of letting up. In May 2015, the Mail Online reported on a new, and in my opinion, staggeringly stupid, craze called the ‘Fire Challenge’, where young people filmed themselves pouring an inflammable liquid over their bodies and setting themselves alight. There were alleged cases where stunts went wrong and the participants were left badly burned with a 15-year-old in the USA reportedly burned to death when his entire body was engulfed in flames.

In more recent years we have faced other challenges from 'Am I pretty?', not a physically dangerous game but one which could destroy a teenage girls self-esteem, the 'Cinnamon Challenge' where participants tried to consume a spoonful of cinnamon powder', to the 'Blue Whale Challenge', which it has been suggested was a hoax, but nevertheless stories were found of young people taking their own lives as a result, to name just a few.

An now we face, quite literally, Momo. This challenge has taken over the media in recent days, with warnings from schools, police, charities and more about the dangers it creates. In brief, this is also known as the ‘suicide game’ played on WhatsApp. It begins with a disturbing face appearing (this image is actually taken from a sculpture by a Japanese artist). This character encourages young people to add contacts on the messaging service and then replies with threats of violence, and encourages self-harm and suicide. It is suggested that those responsible for ‘Momo’ are hackers looking for information. However, as with the Blue Whale Challenge, it seems that this too is a hoax, but it can still be causing distress to young people.

These days, social media provides a vehicle for fads and trends to spread virally throughout the global community like nothing else previously - even television cannot claim to have contributed to the proliferation of historical trends anywhere close to what the Internet can. The ubiquitous nature of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social platforms that can be accessed via desktop and mobile devices means that any potential phenomena can reach a huge audience very quickly.

But not all Internet crazes are bad. A positive example of how a craze can go viral occurred in the US, by way of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, where a person dumps or has dumped on by friends, a bucket of ice water over their heads to promote awareness of the disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and encourage donations to charities involved in research of the disease. In the UK, people took part in order to support the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

It is often a great experience when you feel part of a movement or phenomena, you can say to friends “yeah, I did that too!” You feel part of an exclusive club or community and if the common activity is a force for good like helping a charity or showing kindness then long may it continue, but when it comes fads or crazes that demand risky pursuits, I am reminded what my parents said whilst chastising me, as a child, when I had done something stupid following the lead of a so-called friend:

“If Joe Smith jumped off a cliff would you follow and jump off too?”

Have your say

Have you had experience of social media trends in your school? What is your school doing to tackle the issue? What positive outcomes have you seen from talking to pupils about this? Let us know your thoughts and suggestions using the comments section below.

Written by Steve Gresty on February 28, 2019 14:25

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