Moves Away from Facebook?

We are apparently seeing a backlash against use of Facebook. Over the weekend a post on Facebook’s struggle to keep teens described how, although in September 2014 had 864 million daily active users, 703 million mobile daily active users and 1.35 billion monthly active users, “the company faces a significant challenge keeping the service relevant to younger users“. Earlier this week Niall Sclater provided a personal anecdote in a post on How a fifteen year-old Scottish girl uses social media which suggested “Facebook is mainly for older people who want to share baby photos“.

Also over the weekend the Observer included an article by Ben Goldacre entitled When data gets creepy: the secrets we don’t realise we’re giving away. The popularity of this article can be gauged by the 323 comments made on the article to date as well as, ironically, the 7,390 shares made on social media.

But Continued Use By Professionals in Higher Education?

Linkedin Facebook groupThe article on Facebook’s struggle to keep teens suggests that  teenagers may be moving towards use of messaging applications although a post published  by Piper Jaffray earlier this year described how a Survey finds teens still tiring of Facebook, prefer Instagram.

However moves towards use of messaging applications do not seem to be reflected in my professional uses of social media services. Twitter continues to be a valuable tool but I also seem to be making greater use of Facebook for professional purposes, in part  helped by the release earlier this year of a bookmarking facility for Facebook posts. I also find that there are various Facebook groups for professional purposes which have been subscribed by my professional contacts who also make use of Twitter. A good example of this is the Linked Web Data for Education Facebook group which has 102 members, including 35 I am connected with on various social networks.

In additional to use of Facebook by professionals to support their work in additional to social interests we also see continued use of Facebook by institutions.

Back in July 2014 a post on Facebook Usage for Russell Group Universities, July 2014 provided figures related to Facebook usage by the 24 Russell group universities and summarised growth since similar surveys were published in 2011 and 2012.

An updated survey was carried out on 8 December 2014 which includes metrics which weren’t collected fin previous surveys, including the numbers of Facebook users ‘talking’ about the institutional Facebook page and the numbers of new ‘likes’ for the page. I hope that this data will provide a benchmark which could help to indicate a decline in interest in Facebook use: we might expect Facebook ‘likes’ to continue to grow users probably don’t ‘unlike’ pages, but the number of new pages ‘likes’ should provide a better indication of current levels of interest. Clearly Facebook page administrators will be able to view the metrics for their institutional Facebook page but will not be able to detect trends unless such data is shared.

It should also be noted that, as described in a Facebook support page,  an apparent decline in the numbers of ‘likes’ may be due to Facebook users managing their privacy settings:  Earlier this year Facebook announced new privacy controls for Making It Easier to Share With Who You Want and we are now seeing a range of resources, such as this poster on “How to Stay Safe on Facebook” which can help to educate users on how to manage Facebook more effectively.

Should Institutions and Experienced Professionals Cease Using Facebook?

However rather that making decisions on professional use of social media services such as Facebook on business criteria such as the level of use, the audience profiles, the costs of providing the services and the estimated benefits, might there be an argument that organisations and individuals who place a high value on ethical business practices should cease making use of services which infringe users’ privacy and exploit their intellectual property from unfairly using their dominant position in the market place. We have been here before – back in 2004, the EU ordered Microsoft to pay a fine of over £380 million for abuse of its dominant position in the market. But beyond such infringement of monopoly legislation which are decided by a court case, might the business decisions being taken by social media companies such as Facebook be regarded as a social injustice which individuals and organisations should face up to, just as many did by disinvesting in South Africa during the apartheid era?

I’ve already mentioned Ben Goldacre’s Observer article which highlighted such dangers: When data gets creepy: the secrets we don’t realise we’re giving away.  And a few day’s ago Pete Johnston posted a comment on this blog in which he summarised his concerns:

Targetting, profiling and “personalisation” are central, and vast resources are ploughed into trying to gather or infer information about individuals’ activities and preferences based on our behaviour on the Web. Sometimes that data collection is overt and explicit: we are invited to volunteer personal data to a social media service in exchange for access to communication channels and the creation of an online profile without which we are told we are a second-class citizen. Sometimes it is rather more covert, as in the surreptitious tracking of our behaviour across Web sites through ever more complex digital sleight of hand tricks. And that tracking increasingly extends into our physical world behaviour (tracking mobile wireless signals in shopping malls, linking email addresses to “loyalty” cards and so on).

That personal information is gathered, stored, merged with other information, analysed/mined, transferred/bought/sold/brokered/requisitioned/intercepted/lost/found/stolen, and (re)used by different parties for purposes and in contexts over which we have no control – from “personalised offers” to spam to profiling to surveillance to identity theft to ending up on Theresa’s Big List of Domestic Extremists because someone on your “friends” list once “liked” a Bad Book. Services’ promises of ephemerality, security and anonymisation appear to mean little when the price is right (ba-dum-tish) and they can fall back on that get-out clause buried deep in the terms of service.

 Your Thoughts

Facebook currently has 864 million daily active users and 703 million mobile daily active users. The data provided in Appendix 1 gives some figures for Facebook’s use across official pages for the 24 Russell Group universities. But is such data irrelevant? I’d welcome your thoughts.

Appendix 1: Institutional Use of Facebook by Russell Group Universities, December 2014

Note that the data provided in the following table is also available as a Google Spreadsheet.

Ref. No. Institution and Web site link
Facebook name and link
Nos. of likes
(Dec 2014)
Nos. of visits
(Dec 2014)
Nos. talking
(Dec 2014)
Nos. of new page
likes (Dec 2014)
Statistics
 1 InstitutionUniversity of Birmingham
Fb nameunibirmingham
   10,853 118,057  4,020 4,020 [Link]
 2 InstitutionUniversity of Bristol
Fb namebristoluniversity
    32,715   3,053     950      183 [Link]
 3 InstitutionUniversity of Cambridge
Fb namecambridge.university
1,081,801 14,240   8,336 [Link]
 4 InstitutionCardiff University
Fb namecardiffuni
      57,660  –     241     200 [Link]
 5 InstitutionDurham University
Fb nameDurham-University/109600695725424
     32,636  11,004  –  – [Link]
 6 InstitutionUniversity of Exeter
Fb nameexeteruni
      34,572   47,314    2,242   202 [Link]
 7 InstitutionUniversity of Edinburgh
Fb nameUniversityOfEdinburgh
      87,865    32,402     1,598    552 [Link]
 8 InstitutionUniversity of Glasgow
Fb Name: glasgowuniversity
     82,736  69,505     4,646     555 [Link]
 9 InstitutionImperial College
Fb nameimperialcollegelondon
     83,629     1,391    437 [Link]
10 InstitutionKing’s College London
Fb nameKings-College-London/54237866946
     44,189    32,020       544    190 [Link]
11 InstitutionUniversity of Leeds
Fb nameuniversityofleeds
    29,410   20,856     1,557    237 [Link]
12 InstitutionUniversity of Liverpool
Fb name: University-of-Liverpool/103803892992025
    70,647  48,447  – [Link]
13 InstitutionLSE
Fb name: lseps 
   163,854   50,554   2,140  1,070 [Link]
14 InstitutionUniversity of Manchester
Fb name:TheUniversityOfManchester
     67,346  23,170   6,709     567 [Link]
15 InstitutionNewcastle University
Fb namenewcastleuniversity
    42,868  19,383    3,038    379 [Link]
16 InstitutionUniversity of Nottingham
Fb nameTheUniofNottingham
     72,015  85,596    2,381     279 [Link]
17 InstitutionUniversity of Oxford
Fb namethe.university.of.oxford
2,038,667   25,012 13,531 [Link]
18 InstitutionQueen Mary, University of London
Fb name: QMLNews
     85,861   21,478       1,132       291 [Link]
19 InstitutionQueen’s University Belfast
Fb nameQueensUniversityBelfast
     25,162     2,930     209 [Link]
20 InstitutionUniversity of Sheffield
Fb nametheuniversityofsheffield
  76,932    83,375    1,011      279 [Link]
21 InstitutionUniversity of Southampton
Fb nameunisouthampton
  58,409   71,726   2,039     384 [Link]
22 InstitutionUniversity College London
Fb nameUCLOfficial
  105,048    83,375   4,938    489 [Link]
23 InstitutionUniversity of Warwick
Fb namewarwickuniversity
   55,146  –    1,459   285 [Link]
24 InstitutionUniversity of York
Fb nameuniversityofyork
  20,785 14,605      467    56 [Link]
TOTAL  4,460,806    835,920     84,685          37,731