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Facebook scams reveal a different discourse around social networking providers

November 8th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

In the educational technology community we have talked about social networking from a learning perspective. How can social networking promote the development of personal learning networks? What is its impact on the formation of digital identities. How is knowledge developed and shared? Can we trust commercial companies such as Google to provide critical infrastructures for learning?

We have tended to ignore the commercial side of the business, hoping at least that providers seek ‘to do no evil’ in developing their services.

Michael Arrington’s blog post, Scamville: The Social Gaming Ecosystem Of Hell, and particularly the comments on the blog, reveal another side to the business and a totally different discourse – ‘virtual goods business’, ‘seeds’, ‘CCT’ ‘credit card transactions’, ‘offers’, ‘revenue streams’, ‘virtual gifts’ and ‘CPS’ (cost per share).

Arrington alleged that many of the advertisers, who appear to the central to the whole Facebook operation, are targeting users of popular Facebook games, such as the popular Farmville, with seemingly innocuous offers to gain extra game points which in fact tie them in to expensive credit card subscriptions. At best, the terms and conditions of service are contained in the small print. And, from reading the comments – see for instance this comment, it appears that such practices are almost impossible to avoid for perspective Facebook developers seeking to ‘monetize’ on their products.

Indeed it is the whole language of the discussion which is most shocking. This is another world to our discourse around social networking. Social networking here, becomes a world of cut throat primitive accumulation of capital, where only the most ruthless and cynical survive.

Within national and supra national economies, we have relied on governments to regulate against the worst excesses of capitalist greed. Arrington, and other commentators on his blog, appeal to Facebook to regulate to stop rip-off practices by advertisers and games developers. This seems improbable, given that Facebook makes its money off such people. Although obviously social network providers are susceptible to public opinion and are afraid of bad publicity, their interest also seems to be based on how to make the most money in the shortest time from their platforms. As Arrington says: “There can be only one reason Facebook and MySpace turn a blind eye to user protection – they’re getting such a huge cut of revenue back from these developers in advertising. If they turn off the spigot, they hurt themselves.”

So where do we go now? I remain convinced of the value of social networking for learning. But we cannot trust the commercial platform providers to have the same interests as us (and before you accuse me of scaremongering please read the comments on Arrington’s blog). At the need of the day, we need to promote distributed platforms and infrastructures (such as Buddypress) which we, as an educational community, can control. We need to continue to develop and support open standards. And we need to consider how social networks can be properly regulated.

6 Responses to “Facebook scams reveal a different discourse around social networking providers”

  1. Google has thrown down the gauntlet to Facebook with plans to compete with the social network hugely popular software development platform. Blog Services

  2. In light of Will Hutton’s article in today’s Indy, which I blogged about here, And, another recent post on comment spam, I have to ask if this is any surprise? This is why I am interested in the “beliefs and ideologies embedded in the artefacts of learning technology”. There are good people and good platforms. I haven’t lost faith in Automattic, makers of WordPress. Twitter has held up for me, so far. Facebook was, imo, tainted from the beginning; just look at the principals behind Zuckerberg: the Founders Fund, Accel, Microsoft; and look at the Board: Jim Breyer, Pete Thiel. Man, you do not get more rapacious than that.

  3. Nick Sharratt says:

    This isn’t news to me and is one aspect of a much broader ‘threat matrix’ that I tried to allude to quickly in the few minutes allowed at the ALT-C #vle is dead debate.

    The Internet at large is a very very dangerous place, and while learners will willfully expose themselves to such threats, there is real risk in an institution promoting the use of such tools without due regard as it gives tacit approval for them as ‘safe havens’ which they are far from being.

    I believe schools etc have a vital role in helping to educate students to the very real threats on the Internet, but they also need to provide a learning environment which is relatively safe while students gain those skills at least. I would go further and suggest all official systems promoted by an institution need to be ‘safe’ even if students have been educated to the risks as being wary of the tools is a sure way to distract concentration from learning. There are also significant costs to an institution to validate 3rd party tools and their providers and forming suitable legal agreements with those providers and failing to do so is abdicating responsibility for the well being of our learners.

    It will be interesting to explore this and other issues again in Dec for #vleundead 🙂


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