Tag Archives: Facebook

Moderating a group on Facebook


I first started using Facebook back in November 2006, and then set up the ICT4D Group in April 2007 to provide an opportunity for information sharing and networking amongst all those with interests in how ICTs can be used to contribute to ‘development’.  Over the years the Group has grown considerably, and during the last few months an increasing number of people have asked to join.  Along with this, we have had a sudden increase in the number of irrelevant posts, which has made me think that I should formalise the protocol that I have traditionally used to add people to the Group.  Another option would simply be to let anyone join, and hope that people in the Group report posts which offend them or are irrelevant.  However, this would damage the integrity of the Group, and having set it up I think that it still makes sense to try and restrict membership. Interestingly, I have also received requests from people managing other Groups that have been hit by an increase in spam for suggestions about how best to reduce this through the management of Group membership.

So, the process I use to judge whether or not to hit the “Add” button requires me to do a quick review of the Facebook profiles of all those who have asked to be added, or who have been recommended for adding.  What I look for, in approximate order of importance are the following:

  • Whether they already have Friends in the Group (+ve)
  • Whether they belong to other similar Groups (+ve)
  • Whether they are employed by an organisation working in the field (+ve)
  • Whether they studied at an institute or organisation relevant to the field (+ve)
  • Timeline – to see the content that’s there (can be +ve or -ve)
  • Noting if they have been suggested for nomination by an active member of the Group (+ve)
  • Photos – to see if there is anything relating to the field (+ve), or anything that I feel might be construed as offensive to members of the Group (-ve)
  • Evidence that they use Facebook for advertising themselves or the products of a company (strongly -ve)
  • Whether they have a male identity (i.e. use “his”), but their profile photos are female (-ve).  This is a tricky one, because they could be women who have deliberately, or perhaps by accident, chosen to show their gender as male.

In so doing, I have discovered enormous differences in cultural practices on Facebook, and have been particularly struck by how blatant the use of sexual innuendo and imagery can often be.  I’m afraid that this is one of the main reasons why I choose not to add people to the Group.

I would be fascinated to know how other Group Administrators manage their choices about who to add or ignore.  I’m sure I do not always get the decisions right, but hope that members of the ICT4D Group will also self-regulate.  In the future, if we get many more requests, I guess I will have to try to automate this process somehow!

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Google and Facebook: privacy and security


I have long been critical of Google, but two thing have recently begun to make me begin to think again.  First, they have developed an amazing App – Google Translate!  Whilst the translations are by no means perfect, the idea behind the App is brilliant.  At its best, you can speak the phrase that you want translated, and the App will then give you a translation in more than 60 different languages, all as text and some as a sound file.  Using such software, someone can speak a phrase in Indonesian and then the App will translate it so that someone else can hear the phrase in Portuguese or Russian or Czech.  This is really beginning to use the potential of mobile technologies to help people from many different backgrounds communicate with each other.

However, this is not the main purpose of this note.  Anyone who uses Google software cannot but be aware of the changes to Google’s privacy policy that are due to come into force on 1st March.  This is the important thing – Google, for a change, appears to be trying to be much more open than ever before in explaining the reasons why it is adopting new privacy policies.  As they say, “We’re getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that’s a lot shorter and easier to read. Our new policy covers multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google”. In clarifying the reasons for this, Google claims that it will make it easier to work across Google, it will be tailored for users, it will be easier to share and collaborate, that its fundamental principle of protecting user privacy has not changed, and that it helps users understand how Google uses their data.

Google has five core privacy principles:

  1. “Use information to provide our users with valuable products and services.
  2. Develop products that reflect strong privacy standards and practices.
  3. Make the collection of personal information transparent.
  4. Give users meaningful choices to protect their privacy.
  5. Be a responsible steward of the information that we hold”.

However, are these principles really as sound as they at first sight appear?  Google’s profits have been built around the fundamental notion that it encourages consumers to give information to the company that is of considerable value to Google  in exchange for ‘free’ services, such as the world’s best search engine, e-mails and document sharing.

An alternative perspective is offered by those who see this as a deliberate move to combine information about individuals from across the platforms that it now owns, and use this to generate even greater profits.  As the BBC has commented, “Critics have hit out at Google’s decision to merge personal data from YouTube, Gmail, search, social network Google+ and dozens of other services”.  As the BBC report goes on to note, “Data is a hugely valuable commodity as firms seek ways of making money from users’ web habits with ever more targeted adverts”.

It is not only Google, though, that is combining aspects of its various services, and the information it gleans from them.  As the competition between Google and Facebook hots up, Facebook is also combining the different data it holds about people.  Again, as the BBC comments “Facebook is also moving to merge people’s data, with tweaks to how user information is displayed. Its new feature, Timeline, shares users’ past history on the site in a more readable way. While it does not expose any more information that was previously available on its traditional profile page it does makes it easier to view older posts. Currently the system is voluntary, but Facebook is making it compulsory”.

The forthcoming IPO (initial public offering) of Facebook provides an interesting opportunity to reflect on the balance of power between the top valued companies that have built their businesses on the technologies of the Internet, and an apparently endless desire by people to find out about each other and share information about themselves.  A recent report by Keith Woolcock in Time Business captures this well: “The upcoming IPO of Facebook, the flak surrounding Twitter’s decision to censor some tweets, and Google’s weaker-than-expected 4th-quarter earnings all point to one of the big events of our times: The crazy, chaotic, idealistic days of the Internet are ending. Once, the Prairies were open and shared by everyone. Then the farmers arrived and fenced them in. The same is happening to the Internet: Apple, Amazon and Facebook are putting up fences — and Google is increasingly being left outside. The old Internet on which Google has thrived is still there, of course, but like the wilderness it is shrinking. Often these days, we sign up for Facebook or Amazon’s private version of the Internet. At other times, we use a smartphone and download an App instead of using Google search. Investors are already placing their bets on who the winners of the new Internet will be: Over the past five years Amazon’s shares, despite their recent fall, have risen 370%. Apple’s are up 438%. Google’s, meanwhile, have merely risen by 17% in all that time.  It is still the early days of this long-term trend, but my hunch is that this gap in performance will widen over the coming year — and that Google’s long slow decline has already begun”.

Perhaps I should start feeling sorry for Google after all.  At least I began this blog by encouraging people to start using their great translation App!  Ultimately, though, we should all reflect a bit deeper on what it is we are giving away for free when we sign up for a service that is free for us to use.  We should all also be much more careful about just how much information about ourselves we make available publicly – just in case one day we regret the profit that others have made out of it!

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Data on Internet and social media usage


One of the interesting things about the Internet is actually how difficult it is to find out detailed and accurate information about its usage, especially with respect to social media. The International Telecommunications Union does, though, provide some useful high level data.  Given all of the emphasis on the apparent ‘ubiquity’ of Internet use, these provide some very salient reminders that in 2011

  • some 35% of the world’s population use the Internet – which means that 65% still do not!
  • although 45% of Internet users are under 25, 75% of the world’s under-25s still do not use the Internet.
  • there are twice as many mobile-broadband as there are fixed-broadband subscribers across the world

It is not just connectivity, though, that matters.  The available bandwidth and speed of connectivity are also crucial.  The following ITU graph (click on image for larger version) thus illustrates the enormous contrasts that still exist in this respect:

Whereas more than 95% of fixed broadband connections in South Korea have advertised speeds of ≥ 10 Mbit/s, some 98% of connections in Ghana, Venezuela and Mongolia have speeds of ≤ 2 Mbit/s.

Of equal concern is the observation that the least developed countries are being left further and further behind in the race for digital connectivity.  In a striking report on the role of ICTs in the “least developed countries”, the ITU  shows this particularly graphically in the chart below (click on image for larger version), which illustrates the percentages of people who are Internet users:

This shows, for example, that the difference between the percentage of Internet users in the “developed” and the “least developed” countries in 2000 was only about 25 people per 100, whereas by 2010 it had leaped to more than 68 people per 100.  Despite growth in the number of Internet users in the developing countries, they were likewise still 50 people per 100 behind the “developed” countries in 2010.  The differences between rich and poor are thus getting dramatically bigger rather than lessening.

As 2012 gets underway, let us all commit ourselves more strongly than ever before to ensuring that these trends are reversed, and that the world’s poorest and most marginalised are indeed able to benefit from the ICTs that so many people living in the richest countries of the world now take for granted.

One aspect of data on Internet usage that I find particularly frustrating is the difficulty of finding accurate information on social media usage.  This is especially important when there is so much rhetoric about the ways in which such media are transforming social, economic, political and cultural life.  It seems to me that, once again, this may well be true of the world’s richest 10% or so of people, but is scarcely true of the majority!

Facebook, for example, is renowned for how little information it shares, with its statistics page only giving very sparse information about five categories of data, including the ‘fact’ that there are 800 million active users.  But what does “Active Users” mean?  According to Facebook it is people who have returned to the site in the last 30 days, although we are told that half of these (c.400 million) use Facebook every day.  If the world’s population is taken as being ‘approximately’ 6.984 billion, that means that about 1 in 17.46 people are using Facebook every day.  Before we get too carried away with the enormity of this figure, we should recognise that this is only 5.7% of the world’s population, which means that a huge 94.3% of the world’s people do not use Facebook daily!

It is likewise not that easy to find out detailed data from Twitter, although officially some 177 million Tweets were sent on 11 March 2011.  In the above vein, though, it should be noted that this is equivalent to only 1 per every 2.5% of the world’s population (some useful sites providing more comprehensive visual summaries of data on Twitter include MarketingGum and digitalbuzz, although these are becoming rather dated; see also report on CMSWire). In September 2011, Twitter announced that it had 100 million active global users logging in once a month – but again this only represents 1.4% of the world’s population!

When we read about how Facebook and Twitter are going to change the world, we therefore need to think very carefully about whose world, and the kind of world they might create.  To be sure, digital technologies have enormous potential to serve the interests of the poorest and most marginalised, and the numbers of users of services such as Twitter and Facebook are indeed increasing impressively, but with such low levels of global reach they are not yet the dominant force that many would claim them to be – or indeed some users might like to think they are!  So, how many people have more than 1000 followers on Twitter?!

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Are social networking sites encouraging infantilism?


A recent report in the Guardian has highlighted the lack of research and understanding of the impact of social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo and Twitter.  The report comments that:

“Social network sites risk infantilising the mid-21st century mind, leaving it characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity, according to a leading neuroscientist. The startling warning from Lady Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln college, Oxford, and director of the Royal Institution, has led members of the government to admit their work on internet regulation has not extended to broader issues, such as the psychological impact on children. Greenfield believes ministers have not yet looked at the broad cultural and psychological effect of on-screen friendships via Facebook, Bebo and Twitter. She told the House of Lords that children’s experiences on social networking sites ‘are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance. As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised, characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity’.”

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