For Some Students, #DeleteFacebook Is Not Really an Option
I entered my junior year of high school without a Facebook account. But a few months later, that changed. My AP English Language teacher had been using a Facebook group for our class to answer students’ questions after hours. She never told anyone in my class they had to create a Facebook account, but I felt like by not having one, I was missing out on valuable information and conversations.
In light of the recent uproar over Facebook’s snafu with Cambridge Analytica, a number of people have pledged to #DeleteFacebook. But for some students whose class assignments and discussions are tied to the social network, it’s not as simple as it sounds.
Once upon a time, educators like Sarah Jackson—the aforementioned teacher—found Facebook to be a handy tool for class. Years later, she explains to me that one reason she found it convenient was that it was more efficient than email. Over email, she was limited to answering a student’s question individually, when there was a chance that there were other students with the same question. The Facebook group let students with the same question see the question and answer at the same time. She also liked posting links to articles, and enjoyed seeing students do so too.
Jackson now teaches at Zurich International in Switzerland. She stayed with her Facebook group method her first two years of teaching there, but stopped once the school started using Google Classroom. She felt like having both would be redudant.
She says if she was still using Facebook groups, she doesn’t think the recent news about the company would bother her. She explains that the quizzes that can gather someone’s data usually show up on personal feeds, not on group pages.
Even before the latest Facebook controversy, students like AnnaLee Barclay had plenty of reasons to get off the platform. She says when she was a junior at the University of San Diego, she left Facebook because she wanted a mental health break. Someone she went to high school with had passed away, and she was seeing sad content on her newsfeed. At the same time, she says the political climate was starting to be frustrating.
“I was trying to be more aware of what I was allowing into my brain,” says Barclay, who graduated in 2016.
However, her absence from Facebook only lasted about two to three months. It was difficult for her to stay in the loop about fundraisers and meetings that her university would hold. She was in the school’s outdoor adventures club that used Facebook to keep members posted.
Then there were academic reasons. She had small classes, and while a lot of people knew each other by name, she didn’t necessarily have their phone numbers. Facebook ultimately provided the most convenient way for her to get in touch. If she missed a class or wanted clarity on an assignment, she was used to going on Facebook, searching a classmate’s name and then mesaging them.
Leslie Adame, a freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles, says she’s thought about deleting her Facebook account. Her peers communicated more via apps like Twitter, Instagram and Remind. When she began college, “I realized that a lot of the clubs and organization had [Facebook] pages dedicated to events.” She’s kept her account “because that’s mostly where all the networking goes on.”
Bruce McKinney, a communications professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington who has done research on social media, is not surprised at how hard it is to fully detached from Facebook. Opting out of social media, he says, isn’t ever really an option for people.
“You hear about people who say they’re going to opt out of Facebook,” he says. “I’ve known people who’ve done that. But then if they want to be in the loop of things, they’re going to have get back on Facebook or at least some other social media app.”
In the past years, the education technology industry has given rise to a number of companies that have tried to create “Facebook for schools” tools to help connect students and teachers with one another—without all the other personal life updates. Popular among the K-12 community are tools like Edmodo, which modeled its early design and interface very closely to Facebook, and Remind, a communication app that lets users in schools share reminders and assignments. In higher education, learning management systems including Blackboard, Canvas and Moodle have taken on these functionalities.
Despite the availability of these tools, though (and it’s worth noting not every campus offers them), students still feel tugged by their academic and social lives on their campuses to keep their Facebook accounts active. For Barclay, the recent college graduate, temporarily not being on the platform was nice, but also hard.
“While I did find that my mental health was better, I found it increasingly frustrating to not know what was going on” without a Facebook account.