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For schools, it's time to adopt discrete social networks

This is not another salvo directed at social media. That's been done exceptionally well in the profoundly alarming film The Social Dilemma by Jeff Orlowski. The film, timely as it was, has been an ice-bucket awakening for many, especially parents. But, it should not be prompting this response: OMG, Facebook is engineered for addiction AND they're using my data to make billions???

We should already know this even if we didn't read the fine print.

Solving this dilemma doesn't deserve hours of parlor talk or a deep-dive by Mr. Gladwell. If anything, the film betrays, beneath the subtle humblebragging and nerdsplaining of the Silicon Valley dissenters, just how simple all this truly is. These algorithms are not the product of dark alchemy in Zuck's basement. The magic and monstrously uncontrollable AI motif in the film falls short; yes, the machine is learning. It does well to anticipate my vulnerable moments, such as when I'm most likely to overspend on a pair of funky black and white cowboy boots. But, there's no magic here; it's just the latest evolution in the science of profiteering, and that's precisely why our schools need discrete social networks.

Let's agree on a definition:

A social network refers to a means of interaction among people to create, share, or exchange information in virtual communities and networks.

A discrete social network provides all the elegance and effectiveness of this design without the dark doings beneath the surface. Let's consider what we get when we put a wall around this garden.

School systems that provide discrete social networks:

  • No longer expose their constituents (parents, students, teachers, and fans) to traditional social networks;

  • Eliminate the issue of fragmentation in school news-sharing. It all happens in one place, while viewers can share-out to their social networks;

  • Schools no longer need to spend copious time crawling social media accounts or employ expensive tech to do this automatically;

  • Students not allowed by a guardian to use traditional social media are likely to engage with a discrete social network;

  • Schools can manage new-sharing privileges by limiting posting rights and comments as they see fit;

  • Discrete social networks are not designed for viral growth, so they need not facilitate direct messages or private conversations;

  • Well designed, a discrete social network can become a living yearbook for schools, a digital venue for celebrating newsworthy events at a school.

The academic experience occupies significant mindshare in society. It plays a critical role in the socialization of our adolescents, and today's adolescent, like it or not, socializes through technology. Education's present dependence on traditional social channels creates fragmentation and confusion; and limits oversight by administrators. It is also unsafe. While we consider designing safe physical environments, are we giving equal concern to the digital environments we endorse or create?

The smart device is ubiquitous, and experience designers have fine-tuned the mechanics of social media apps. The efficacy of these apps isn't in doubt, but the need to profit corrupts the design for schools. This natural exemption from profit allows schools to enjoy the virtues of social media without the vices.

As educators, we should recognize a move to discrete social networks for our schools is not only a responsibility but an opportunity.

Jodi Fox, Co-founder of Flathat

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