December 8, 2017
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
Facebook’s mission reads: “Founded in 2004, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.” True to mission, they do create community. People can post photos of loved ones, send messages to each other quickly and notify their community of their current activities. I absolutely see the benefit in that type of community. I also see the danger of creating an online community of people that you like, products that you like and statements that you like. I would love to see long-term data from the perspective of whether or not this type of community opens our minds or closes it. Maybe it does neither. As you know, I love to think about the changes that coincide with technology, so today’s blog investigates what it means to be a part of the Facebook community.
First things first, I need to better explain a few of the types of entities on Facebook. Profiles, they claim, must be real people. Individuals. With a profile, someone can offer friendship. You can friend anyone in this group. However, I cannot find any serious investigative tool to prove that the page who claims to be me is me. Anyone can type a name and minimal information in order to set up a page, or so it seems to me. So, I guess I question even the first person definition as allowed on their site (or any online platform, for that matter). How do I know that these friends are really real friends? (A discussion as to the definition of real will have to take place another day).
Next, Facebook offers Pages. These are meant for organizations, businesses, bands, etc. And yes, HMU does have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/HarrisonMiddletonUniversity/ . Feel free to visit it and check out the content that we feel is appropriate to share with our community. We are educators and philosophers, and our students are intelligent, involved, open-minded folks with a wide array of interests. As with all business models, we try to find content which would support their studies, tease their interests, or develop an idea.
This discussion of the type of information that we want to share brings me to the heart of the issue today. Introduced in 2010 in response to users creating unofficial pages, Facebook rolled out the Community Page. Anyone can create a Community Page and name it whatever they want. You could, for example, create a page dedicated to discussing the issues of your child’s elementary school. You can name the page anything you want (though the most obvious is to link it by name to the specific school in order to clearly reach the right audience). So, you are using a name other than your own in order to develop the conversation about a piece of community in which you are somehow involved or interested. The comments posted to this type of page may express information, changes, anger, frustration, excellence, or anything that the community feels important to tell others in the same community. Facebook allows this, and I too see the benefit of informing a specific community about the actions within that community. For example, parent involvement in schools is limited by work conflicts and other scheduling conflicts. It can be reassuring and helpful to have an online community with up-to-date information, news and events. Community Pages are open to anyone and visible for all (assuming the page has been appropriately tagged). They are run by numerous people and can create an unofficial presence around any sort of thing. At the time of their invention, Facebook said that Community Pages “give our users opportunities to express their enthusiasm and creativity, while allowing for Official Pages to continue representing official entities such as businesses, bands and public figures.”
I take issue with this last statement, however. First of all, I wonder how many people notice if the page is official or unofficial? This information is written in the tiniest of fonts under the logo, detached from the About section and nonsensically placed somewhere in the banner. Also, the official page does not necessarily contain any language about it being the official page. Furthermore, internet search engines do not distinguish between official or unofficial, so the results show a hodge-podge of associated pages. Just how they are associated, however, is up for the human searcher to distinguish. I wonder how many teenagers know this when searching information on their favorite celebrity? What is a legitimate source should be a foundational question for all internet searches.
While I understand Facebook’s hesitation to remove Community Pages, I also think that the Community Page should live up to its name. For an example, I use the Community Page dedicated to Harrison Middleton University. This page uses our name, logo, address and phone number, but it never discusses education (ours or any others). Instead, its contributors post products, nonsense and profane birthday cakes (among other ridiculous things). They have taken our information from Wikipedia and reposted it as a cover for their page which, according to Facebook, is dedicated to enhancing our community. When asked about the offensive content placed on HMU’s purported Community Page, Facebook passed the buck. They asked us to contact Wikipedia, which, by the way, does not contain anything illegitimate or untoward. The problem, then, is that a Community Page means absolutely nothing. Instead, any fake user can generate content with a seemingly legitimate brand from anywhere in the world. Facebook claims that any entity’s ability to generate negative conversations while using our logo does not negatively affect us. Rather, it increases the scope of our university. I, however, find it highly problematic that an entity dedicated to fostering community is in no way engaging in the actual community. If the fake Facebook page actually discussed education, or anything related to HMU, I would perhaps feel differently. And, therefore, I return to my original question: what kind of online community are we fostering? In creating nonsensical groups, are we destroying the idea of community itself? In what ways do online communities disengage with an actual sense of community? And, finally, does this affect our sense of community in a physical or local or offline sense?
Just for your reference, here is the illegitimate HMU page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Harrison-Middleton-University/107652162597521
And here is Facebook’s response to my query about trademark infringement (both the HMU name and logo are trademarked): “A Community Page is automatically generated based on what Facebook users are interested in. It is not intended to be the official presence of a brand, public figure or organization. If you object to the content on the reported Community Page, you may access the source of this information by visiting Wikipedia. In some cases, you might be able to edit or provide feedback about this information. Under these circumstances, it’s unclear to us how the reported content, used in the manner depicted, would violate or infringe your legal rights.” Finally, they advised that I contact the Community Page administrator myself. As you can imagine, the HMU Community Page has neither changed in content or existence since we contacted them.
To post a comment, click on the title of this blog and scroll down.