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Schools wrestle with protecting student privacy on Facebook

Facebook remains the center of attention over concerns about data privacy and sharing. How are schools reckoning with how they use the social media platform and what data is shared? John Yang talks with Benjamin Herold of Education Week on some of the specific challenges facing students and educators.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Facebook remains at the center of attention right now over concerns about data privacy and sharing. It's also hit repeatedly for how it determines which content should be taken down off the platform, what's been allowed to stay up, and whether hateful content may have been used to incite violence against groups or people.

    Today, Facebook disclosed for the first time how it makes those decisions. We have spent quite a bit of time exploring some of these concerns.

    Tonight, John Yang zeros in on some of the specific challenges facing students, educators and schools.

    It's the focus of our weekly segment, Making the Grade.

  • John Yang:

    Amna, Facebook listed dozens of topics that could lead to posts being taken down and users banned. They include hateful speech, graphic violence and terrorist propaganda, child nudity, sexual violence and sexual exploitation of children, depictions of crime, as well as sales of firearms and drugs, and intentional or targeted bullying and harassment.

    Facebook acknowledges that context matters, and that some posts may not be clear-cut. The company will create a new appeals process for challenging its decisions.

    All of this comes as schools wrestle with how they use Facebook and what data is shared.

    Ben Herold covers education technology for our partners at Education Week. He joins us now from Philadelphia.

    Ben, thanks for being with us.

    Let me ask first about these guidelines that Facebook announced today. Do these — how do these help schools and students?

  • Ben Herold:

    Well, John, many of the problems and challenges that you listed are things that schools have been dealing with for years, whether it's shooting threats, or cyber-bullying, racist speech, hate speech.

    All of these social media challenges have been an issue for schools for some time. I think anything that a big platform like Facebook can do to make its criteria for flagging and removing content clear and for making the process by which you report that content in order to get it down will be seen as a win by schools.

  • John Yang:

    Now, let's turn to the other issue about data mining and what data is vulnerable.

    First, help us understand, how do schools these days use Facebook?

  • Ben Herold:

    I think schools in many ways are just like the rest of us. They view Facebook as an essential part of modern life. It's a communications tool.

    When they want to share good news about the student month, or who won the big game, or if they have a crisis or a tragedy, and they need to get information to the public, they turn to Facebook to do it.

    But I think what the recent scandals, controversies surrounding Facebook have done is started to raise a bigger question. Facebook is very interested in having this conversation focused on how we use Facebook, but what we're starting to see is privacy advocates here in the U.S. and regulators in other parts of the world starting to flip that and say, how is Facebook using us?

    What kinds of data are they collecting from us? Who are they sharing that information with, and how is it being used?

  • John Yang:

    And, to that point, I know that one research group, the National Education Policy Center, deleted its Facebook account and is urging schools to do the same. How likely is that to happen?

  • Ben Herold:

    We have not seen a big rush to actually delete accounts. Again, I think Facebook is seen as kind of an integral, necessary tool by many schools and by many users.

    What we do hear is privacy advocates suggesting that schools take some basic steps and precautions, review their settings and privacy policies, and try not to mandate that students use Facebook to share homework or participate in an online class discussion.

    And, you know, I think that it raises this bigger question and bigger challenge around the deal we all make with not just Facebook, but other technology platforms that are such a big part of our life now, where basically the deal is, they provide us with free online services that millions and millions of people put a tremendous amount of value on.

    In exchange, we give them a tremendous amount of personal information. And for years, I think people have kind of distrusted the process that was in plates that that would happen and it would be OK. Some of the recent scandals and issues and challenges that have made headlines have started to make schools and others say, hey, maybe we need to actually reckon with this original deal and say, is this worthwhile?

  • John Yang:

    Ben, it's not just schools worrying about their data being exposed, but it's also students' data being exposed. How is that affecting how schools are approaching this?

  • Ben Herold:

    Well, that's exactly right.

    I think there are millions of teenage users of Facebook, and for most part, the company treats them in the same way that it treats adults, particularly when it comes to the types of data it collects from them. That can include everything that a student uploads from Facebook, from their photos and posts and updates, everything they like on Facebook, everything they click on Facebook.

    Facebook is also able to know what kind of phone you're using and when you're using it. It can collect location data showing where you are and what kind of cell phone towers and Wi-Fi access points are nearby. Facebook can actually track our browsing history in many cases, not only for Facebook users, but for people who don't log into Facebook or don't have a Facebook account at all.

    And so there is a growing push within schools to try and do what they can to make students aware not just of their own practices, being good digital citizens and trying to be responsible with what they post to social media, but understanding this broader context in which data is collected and shared and used for all manner of purposes by all kinds of parties in ways that are often invisible to us.

    And I think the more that both educators and students and parents can understand that, the better off they will be.

  • John Yang:

    Ben Herold of Education Week, thanks for joining us.

  • Ben Herold:

    Thanks for having me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And speaking of all these Facebook developments, tomorrow, Miles O'Brien will begin a special series on the serious problems of false news.

    And he will start with an inside look from Facebook itself and the problems of stopping it.

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