Social media has become a necessity in the life of the modern student. It provides a unique way to stay in touch with nearly anyone in the world. But this feat of modern technology comes with its own serious concerns. Just last month it was revealed that up to 87 million people have had their personal data on Facebook compromised by Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm which, in its own words, «uses data to change audience behavior.»
This resulted in a large and ongoing scandal, leading to the «#DeleteFacebook» movement, which has influential people such as Steve Wozniak and Elon Musk deleting their Facebook accounts. Mark Zuckerberg was also pressured into testifying to the United States Congress about the scandal this week.
A necessary evil?
Despite the concerns, people find it difficult to get rid of their profiles. Many students find it is almost a necessity to have a Facebook profile.
Alexander Doré (20) from Zimbabwe is one such student. He studies philosophy at UiO and is an active Facebook user. He finds that Facebook «dominates the social arena like nothing else.» When it comes to social events, Doré says Facebook is a necessity. He mentions the situation at the Blindern student home, where he lives, as an example. According to Doré, every social event is published on Facebook, and it is impossible to stay updated without a profile.
For international students in particular, social media is the most effective way to stay in contact with family and friends back home. Deleting social media accounts could mean cutting off many old connections. «I feel that without social media, the only way to contact these people is through international calls, which just gets ridiculously expensive,» Doré explained.
However, he does think that choosing not to have a Facebook account would not be a detriment academically. «It is possible to be a student and not have Facebook. You still have e-mail, Fronter and Canvas for studies, so I don’t think it is worth it to get a Facebook account just for school,» he said.
Doré is concerned about the data breach by Cambridge Analytica, but does not think it is the end of the world. «When you think of Facebook as providing a service, and the way you pay for the service is with your personal data, it makes sense, and I don’t mind that too much,» he said.
Doré also feels that he keeps Facebook for the sake of others, not only for himself. «I feel that if I don’t have Facebook, it sort of damages everyone else, because no one will be able to contact me or to invite me places. It is good to have that platform where people can get ahold of me.»
Data protection is of course extremely important and we take that very seriously.Gisle Hellsten, leader of Career Services at UiO
Facebook as a platform for services
Facebook has also become a requirement for certain services related to studies. For instance, Career Services at UiO recently integrated their «ledige stillinger» («vacant positions») page entirely over to Facebook.
Gisle Hellsten, the leader of Career Services at UiO, talked to Universitas about why they moved the page over to Facebook. «There were two things that motivated this change. The first is access – most students use Facebook already. It’s an open source, they only need a Facebook account to access it,» he said.
Previously, the vacant positions page was a standalone service, where people had a username and password unique to the Career Services. «Many people forgot their passwords, including the employees,» Hellsten explained.
Hellsten also cites cost as a motivating factor: «We hardly pay anything, only a few thousand kroner to develop this solution. We would rather spend money for students’ activities, and not on platform development.»
When asked about how this might impact students who choose not to use Facebook, Hellsten did not seem too concerned, noting that nearly everyone at the university, both students and faculty, uses Facebook regularly, and even those who are not regular users tend to have a profile for the sake of receiving information.
Hellsten did show some concern about the security problems associated with Facebook. Regarding the Cambridge Analytica data breach, Hellsten said, «The case is a big problem. Data protection is of course extremely important and we take that very seriously.»
Hellsten takes this data breach as an indication that Facebook is no longer in its prime, and that it could be replaced by something else in the near future. He is open to migrating over to a newer platform if Facebook is replaced by another service, noting that the goal of the career center is to «be where the students are.»
There’s been warning signs about this since the dawn of time.Stian Bjerkeflåta, student
Living without Facebook
Some students have chosen not to use Facebook at all, even before the latest data scandal. Stian Bjerkeflåta (40), from Norway, is one of them. He studies philosophy too, and has chosen not to use Facebook, citing security concerns such as the latest scandal.
Still, he feels that others at the university expect him to have a Facebook account:
«It happens in my Ethics course, for instance, where many of the group discussions occur on Facebook, which I haven’t had a chance to look at.»
However, he does not feel he is dependent on Facebook in order to function as a student. «If it got to that point, I would bring it up with the faculty,» he said.
«I have talked to people about why they still use Facebook despite everything. People are kind of locked into it, and it’s become a part of people’s everyday lives, so it’s not as simple as just quitting,» he responded when asked about why people continue to use Facebook.
According to Bjekeflåta, this scandal should not have come as a surprise. «My reasons for not having Facebook are related with what’s been revealed in the last couple of weeks, but there’s been warning signs about this since the dawn of time.»