Prompted by the news of this lawsuit, we tallied how many of the schools in our 2022 EdTech benchmark had Facebook, Instagram or Twitter school accounts. The results are not surprising. 91% of schools studied have one or more Facebook accounts. (Note that schools often have more than one Facebook account: one for the marching band, one for the basketball team, etc.) 79% of schools have a Twitter account, and 69% of schools have an Instagram account.
We’re including Twitter because it includes the same kinds of addictive harmful patterns that are in Facebook and Instagram.
Since our sampling was designed to provide an accurate snapshot of the overall national behavior, we can say with some confidence that 91% of schools in the US actively use Facebook to communicate with students (and vice versa).
Schools are unwitting “pushers” of addictive technology. Because of course they’re going to use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: they’re free and easy platforms. We sympathize with the schools because what are the alternatives? What are easy and free alternatives for publishing and reaching all your students? The primary problem here is that there aren’t any widely adopted safe alternatives yet.
And that’s why there’s only one desirable outcome from this lawsuit which is changing the behavior of the software to remove unreasonable risks to not just children but all humans.
We haven’t written a lot about this, but internally we regularly talk about age verification in technology. In short, we are not proponents of it. One, because age limits are arbitrary and not backed by science. And, two, because the universal deployment of age checking ushers the end of what little anonymity we [deludedly think we] have online. While some of the safety risks might be mitigated by technologies like W3C’s Verifiable Credentials, the more fundamental safety concerns arise from age checking every digital visitor—and that’s precisely what would have to happen. This is too costly a precedent both in terms of development cost and the loss of privacy. (For clarity, product cost wise, such a regime also necessitates the maintaining of two user experiences: one for kids and one for adults. Given how unsafe technology is right now, virtually every mobile app and every website would need to maintain two code bases: one safe for kids and one risky for adults.)
Instead, build software that is reasonably safe for everyone. We must come together as governing entities, civil society, and citizens to agree on what “reasonably safe” software behavior is. And it must be grounded in the objectively measured current behavior of software; people must have a better understanding of what’s happening under the globally networked, invisible hood of technology.
As ever, we’re here to help.