Media platforms

Colleges should create their own social media platforms instead of relying on Facebook (opinion)

Facebook was born on a college campus and initially restricted to students, so its growth and reach into higher education was perhaps inevitable. Facebook was an immediately useful platform for maintaining intellectual and social community across geographic and institutional divides. Brief updates and lengthy threads kept the 2 a.m. conversations going in the dorms.

But beyond the many concerns about the role of social media in recent politics, the most crucial issue for higher education is that Facebook is terrible for storage and search, which for institutions whose mission is the collection, evaluation and dissemination of knowledge, is a serious problem. .

The usefulness of Facebook is undeniable. Early on, he did the work of alumni magazines and reunion committees keeping the gang together for free. At first, colleges and universities worried about weakening alumni ties as everyone flocked to the new site. But Facebook’s group creation feature eased concerns: Colleges could create pages for alumni as well as parents, admitted students, professional conferences, and public and private events. Academic units have jumped into the fray, creating and maintaining pages for all manner of courses, speakers, conversations, and debates.

So what does it matter that a substantial part of higher education life lives on Facebook? The problems are threefold.

First, Facebook can no longer be considered a safe or neutral platform for anyone, let alone institutions with a mission to educate people and correct disinformation. Although individual users can still choose to use the platform, the many accusations leveled against Facebook as promoting the proliferation of misinformation and conspiracy – not to mention concerns about the well-documented human costs of content moderation – should make higher education leaders think. By creating and using Facebook pages for the dissemination of institutional information, are colleges and universities encouraging members of the community, including future students, often minors, to visit an increasingly controversial and polarizing site?

Second, how much institutional memory has accumulated on your institution’s Facebook pages and how could you go about moving this archive to your institution? Facebook has been extremely useful as a combined bulletin board and filing cabinet for overworked administrators and staff members. Is your mailing list outdated? Do you have limited funds for printing costs? Posting events on Facebook is free. But who keeps the records at the institution? How would you celebrate the 10th anniversary of an engaged university center on Facebook without the daunting task of uploading and retrieving posters, photos and comments? What if your access was lost?

Third, in an era of declining enrollment, what opportunities has your institution lost by not investing in building its own platforms over the past decade? Currently, the interactive educational platforms used by higher education institutions, such as Blackboard or Canvas, are clunky, aesthetically unappealing, and far from user-friendly. The most successful higher education interactive engagement is in admissions chat bots. What experiments and innovations could colleges and universities have pursued if they hadn’t been so dependent on Facebook? How could academic units have promoted, hosted and stored information differently? What links with students and graduates could institutions have forged more strongly without the mediation of social networks?

I recently met with the Chair of the Department of Theater and Dance Arts at my institution about her concept of a zero-gravity dance lab to explore, in coordination with our science departments and with support from grants to the NASA education, what dancing in space might look like. She knows my views on Facebook and asked, “Couldn’t we just use social media to send students to our website?” And couldn’t we have a chat function so that interested students can ask professors questions and get answers directly on our website? This kind of novel idea is what the institution and department pages should have developed all along.

Higher education institutions have ceded to commercial social media platforms the very lawn and seminar room space that faculty members, administrators and alumni have enjoyed for centuries. Facebook, not the institution, hosts the Bulletin Board of exciting events, much of the vibrant community and energetic debates, and over a decade of archives of personal and community engagement.

The academy’s comfort with a vibrant virtual academic space is part of the reason the pivot to distance learning and e-mediated community in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, was so seamless. that he was. It is certainly true that, if we had less ease and familiarity with digital social spaces, we might not have felt as “comfortable” with our virtual university communities as we did in the past. last year. Yes, we have Facebook to thank for that.

But isn’t it time for higher education institutions to reclaim the real estate that once belonged to them and build their own digital platforms as sites of interactive learning and exploration, intellectual friendliness and scientific engagement, creative expression and academic debate?

Some people may jump in and warn of the obvious minefield that moderating content on a college and university interactive media site would entail. This is not a call for individuals to delete Facebook accounts, and indeed it may be less straightforward to limit the comments section on an institution’s own platform than to determine whether the speech of faculty, staff or students on Facebook crosses a line. But colleges and universities should recognize their reliance on Facebook to archive their intellectual and social life and instead foster community on their own platforms.

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