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Facebook: Digital Literacy is not enough

May 20th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Yesterday’s OLDaily included excellent coverage by Stephen Downes of the growing Facebook privacy row. Personally I particularly enjoyed Danah Boyds rant:

What pisses me off the most are the numbers of people who feel trapped. Not because they don’t have another choice. (Technically, they do.) But because they feel like they don’t. They have invested time, energy, resources, into building Facebook what it is. They don’t trust the service, are concerned about it, and are just hoping the problems will go away. It pains me how many people are living like ostriches. If we don’t look, it doesn’t exist, right?? This isn’t good for society. Forcing people into being exposed isn’t good for society. Outting people isn’t good for society, turning people into mini-celebrities isn’t good for society.

And I very much like Frances Bell’s comment citing Tony Hirst, “Ah, but you’re not Facebook’s customer. Advertisers are their customers. You are the product they’re selling.”

My Facebook account is still hanging on, but it is getting very close to disappearing (and all I use it for is forwarding my Twitter feed anyway. I have at least 20 friendship requests ending from people who I have no idea who are!).

Of course Stephen Downes is right when he says the answer is learning to manage our digital identities. But I am not sure digital literacy alone is enough. I think young people should be able to understand why they need to manage their identities on Facebook as well as how. And this goes way beyond internet safety. They should be able to understand the reasons why Facebook is making such drastic changes to its privacy policies and what such changes mean. Of course this involves judgement. I am prepared to accept the Google Buzz balls up on privacy was just that – a balls up.

The Facebook privacy issues are not the result of bad planning or even evangelical thinking on behalf of the Facebook directors. They are driven purely by the desire to make more profit for shareholders, regardless of the opinion or interests of users. And young people need to be able to understand this: to understand the motives driving different web developments and to understand the use of the internet within wider society.

Digital literacy is not enough. Young people need to understand the  politics and economics of the web. And soon!

2 Responses to “Facebook: Digital Literacy is not enough”

  1. Lou McGill says:

    Hi Graham

    I agree with you but do think it also depends on how broadly you define Digital Literacy. To me DL absolutely includes understanding the politics and economy of the web – and internet safety is just one very small element of DL. To be effective learners and citizens I think we need that broader understanding – now just to convince those trying to integrate Digital Literacy into their curricula!
    Lou

  2. Frances Bell says:

    It was actually quoting Tony Hursch a Moodle.org buddy but he is used to being confused with Tony Hirst.

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