Lesson Plan: Data, Privacy and Identity on Facebook

Soft-focus sillhouette of a magnifying-glass over a blue screen displaying many copies of the Facebook logo

In “Information Revelation and Internet Privacy Concerns on Social Network Sites: A Case Study of Facebook” (2009), Alyson Young and Anabel Quan-Haase argued that “despite concerns raised about the disclosure of personal information on social network sites, research has demonstrated that users continue to disclose personal information.” In recent years, Facebook has expanded greatly — both in user numbers and in their range of applications, especially those available for mobile technologies. Used on wearable devices like smartphones and smart watches, Facebook allows for not only mobile messaging, calling and video-calling, but also for disclosing information about one’s locations and social behavior by means of the “check-in” or “who are you with” functions. This lesson plan raises students’ awareness about the personal information they are disclosing.

Learning Objectives

In this lesson, students critically examine the world’s most popular social media site in order to learn about the digital power that is accrued when sites gather personal information about one’s individual preferences, one’s social life, and one’s mobile behavior. In doing so, this lesson plan attunes students to the potential risks and benefits of using digital social media.

Students will thus learn:

  • what Facebook knows by keeping track of one’s personal information and one’s social and mobile behavior
  • to deal with this information critically and argumentatively from different points of view (pro vs. contra)
  • how to write an argumentative statement from a certain point of view
  • Assignment Length

    2 class meetings

  • Required Materials

    Internet access in the classroom; mobile devices with internet access

  • Skills Necessary

    Working knowledge of Facebook on a mobile device

Access and Adaptability

For this lesson plan, access to Facebook via an internet-connected mobile device is necessary. For students without a Facebook account, instructors may ask them to start a new account in advance. Students could also work together in pairs, looking only at one Facebook account.

Assignment Description

This lesson has two main parts: an in-class activity and accompanying homework assignment. In class, students work in pairs to examine the personal information Facebook has about its users, and what this data might be used for. As homework, students write short articles arguing for or against such uses of personal data.

Instructor Preparation

  • Possibly provide mobile devices for students who do not have one in advance

Student Preparation

  • Possibly, make a new Facebook account (alternatively: share with partner)

In-Class or Assignment Instructions

  • Short brainstorming activity with the whole class about the “power” of Facebook. What does Facebook know about us? Which companies is Facebook connected with?
  • Students in pairs: look at each other’s Facebook accounts on their mobile devices and find out as much possible about information that Facebook has about personal information, interests, mobile and social behavior. (15min)
  • With a partner: each student creates a “costumer profile” from the information on the partner’s Facebook account with regards to business interests: What kind of products or services might this costumer be interested in? Which companies might be interested in this costumer? (15min)
  • Share what you have found out in small groups of 3-4 students. Task: Discuss benefits and risks that are connected with such information? (15min)
  • Collect results with whole class on the board. What are the benefits and risks of using Facebook? Try to formulate clear arguments for or against the power of Facebook about personal information. (10min)
  • As homework: monitor Facebook as much as you can and write a 500 word argumentative essay, in which you take a position either “pro” or “contra”, for or against Facebook’s digital power. Imagine that you are writing this argumentative paper for your student newspaper.
  • In the next class, those essay might be graded. Or as alternative: in the next class, student read the essays of each other, and then think about how to argue against the positions offered in the essays. A few students may be asked to read to the class, so that the whole class can respond with counter arguments. The students have to revise their essays considering the counter arguments and then hand them in for a grade.
Privacy in the crosshairs: the word privacy is written in red letters and presented against a sillhouette mimicking what is visible in a gun sight.

Skills Workshop

In a computer classroom, students can use desktop machines in order to gather information about how much Facebook knows about the students’ personal information and mobile/social behavior. But students can also use their mobile devices for this.

Students find information about the “costumer profile” in the Facebook sections on biographical aspects, on personal interests, and on their “activity log” page, which includes all their activities regarding “likes” of pages and posts, tags, and event activities.
During class, students should try to look at their partners’ Facebook profile (alternatively their own). But for homework, students can then monitor their own Facebook activities with regards to a “costumer profile”.

Assessment Suggestions

The 500 word essay may be assessed according to general rhetorical principles. As it is a position paper, it should have a clear structure with a beginning and conclusion and clearly discernable arguments.

In the second class, students can give each other feedback and also try finding counter arguments against the arguments presented in the 500 words essay. The final essay version can be assessed by giving feedback in an audio file on canvas.
A flow chart demonstrating a sample outline for argumentative essays. Begin with a hook, provide background, a thesis statement, then move on to offer claims, evidence, refutations and conclusions.

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