The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

    SSU may discontinue use of Facebook amid controversy

    For many students, when it comes to finding an on-campus club, event, or connecting with other students, the first place to look is the official Sonoma State Facebook page. However, the recent press about Facebook’s mishandling of private information, and deliberate spreading of misinformation, calls into question whether Sonoma State can continue directing students there. By continuing to have students access Facebook, some staff worry that Sonoma State is condoning the platform’s behavior and promoting it as a safe community for students.

    In a recent article she wrote for Inside Higher Ed, Dean of Arts and Humanities Dr. Hollis Robbins proposed that colleges and universities move away from Facebook entirely and create their own platforms for publicity and communication. This proposal centered around three key problems with the use of Facebook.

    “First,” Robbins wrote, “Facebook can no longer be considered a safe or neutral platform for anyone, let alone institutions with missions to educate people and correct disinformation. While individual users may still choose to use the platform, the many accusations against Facebook as enabling the proliferation of misinformation and conspiracy–not to mention concerns about the well-documented human costs of content moderation–should give higher education leaders pause.” 

    Her second point centered around Facebook’s convenience and how it has become an archival system for bulletins, announcements and milestones on campus. While it does save on cost as a totally free platform, it becomes its own archive and Sonoma State could lose those archives of information if Facebook malfunctioned. 

    “But who is maintaining the files back at the institution? How would you go about celebrating a 10-year anniversary of a Facebook-engaged academic center without the onerous task of downloading and retrieving posters, photos and comments? And what if your access were lost?” Dean Robbins continued. 

    Her third and final argument against continuing to rely on Facebook outlines why she feels now is the time to move away. The benefits of an institution-created platform, that could combine the features of a bulletin board, chat channels, and content moderation that doesn’t rely on users and staff to have to thoroughly review misinformation and even hateful content could change the way students and staff communicate online. 

    That leaves the question of how to create a platform for the Sonoma State community of administrators, teachers, and students. Dean Robbins is looking for answers among student needs. 

    “What we need is a platform for communicating to the entire Sonoma State community and growing this community. Before the internet and social media, there were posters, bulletin boards, and sites that community members would go to and expect to see posters. So the key feature would be that community members would go there (or easily find themselves there) and find information about events and the community generally. Could we have a digital bulletin board as well as some old fashioned “real” ones? I think so,” she said.

    However, in her experience not all faculty is on board with moving away from Facebook. Facebook has been a platform for people to provide insights or share opinions with family, friends and fellow scholars, which is why it’s difficult for many people to give up the community they’ve built and change to a different platform. 

    However, the benefits of an institution-built platform, as Dean Robbins points out, could lead to a safe and endlessly customizable platform that serves the community it was built for. One way to create this platform is taking user-friendly features from existing platforms and incorporating those features into a platform that works specifically for Sonoma State students. Some students have been turning to Discord in order to supplement classroom communication and connection during online semesters. Discord is a server-based platform originally created for gamers, but its popularity has expanded to include communities of artists, clubs, and even study groups. 

    Fourth year student Omri Assado, a business marketing major, has been creating and customizing servers for almost four years. He discusses the endless customization properties that are missing from other chat platforms available and the third-party content moderation missing from Facebook. 

    “The ability to organize and sort everything in a server is definitely conducive to creating an environment where people can find the information they use quickly, as well as reach out to tutors or teachers within a server if they don’t understand something,” Assado said.“There are many ways in which you can customize security and moderation for groups. You can auto-censor words and report it to the administrator, you can change security levels in servers to require various levels of authentication. This isn’t to mention the many different bots that you can incorporate into a server to provide additional layers of security and moderation. It’s hard to even compare facebook to it. As someone who used to run a Facebook page, it’s like night and day when it comes to how well you can manage a server.” 

    This takes content moderation out of the responsibility of the hands of the users, and the security is customizable, so a casual server to organize study sessions would look vastly different from one designed to hold a class or webinar. 

    Fourth-year student Michelle Jones is a part of several Discord study groups this semester. “Since most of us are so close to our phones at all times anyway, and considering the ease of installing and setting up the Discord app, it becomes a convenient platform for quick and short communications between classmates. It is also nice to have a space for the students to talk virtually.” 

    The idea of direct communication between students and university is one that Dean Robbins hopes to include in an institution-built platform, which Jones commented could even help everyday student life. “I do like the idea presented by the Dean of Arts and Humanities of returning to internally-developed (or at least built) communication platforms. The university would be able to choose a host with privacy protections far more comprehensive than those of Facebook or even Canvas. One feature I would want to see moved over to such a platform from Canvas would be the list of people in our classes. Having the ability to identify a classmate and then message them provides a measure of reliability. We know we can figure out which Holly or Johnathon we are supposed to be communicating with, rather than guessing through SSU’s gmail search feature or having to contact a professor.” 

    Getting to pick the features that work best for students isn’t just convenient, but could provide real positive change for students especially in the era of online learning.

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