Reasons for Re-Joining & Why I Use a VPN for FB

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I re-joined Facebook yesterday, and I want to take a moment to comment on the reasons like how I am using the site for research, and also what I do to login to the site.

Reasons for Re-Joining

About a week ago, I was encouraged to re-join Facebook as I embark on the job market this fall in my discipline of rhetoric and writing/composition because people do post information about jobs, universities, departments, etc on Facebook and that I would miss out on opportunities to learn more about these elements by not being on the site.

However, as a digital surveillance/algorithm/rhetorics researcher, I left Facebook over a year ago because of the algorithmic surveillance happening in that space, and I even wrote an article outlining my concerns, which appeared in Hybrid Pedagogy. Re-joining the space gave me considerable pause.

After talking with a dear friend and colleague about my concerns, she suggested I approach my time with Facebook as a site of research and this helped me evaluate the benefits and constraints of re-joining differently.

How I am Using the Site for Research

In addition to blogging about my experiences with re-joining and interacting in Facebook, I will be intentionally playing with the data I input into the site. Here are some parameters that I’ve set:

1. While there are untagged images of me in the Facebook ecosystem, I have decided I will not post or allow my face to be tagged in Facebook because of Facebook’s facial recognition research program, DeepFace. Yes, I am aware that images of me appear on Twitter and on other sites, including Google’s image search.

For now, I do not want to participate in Facebook’s DeepFace project or I want to limit my involvement as much as possible.

2. Since Facebook’s “like” feature has not only legal, commercial, and privacy implications, I will not use the “like” feature in Facebook. Besides, it is just another way to contribute data for Facebook to offer personalization through their algorithms.

3. I will not be adding any interests because Facebook uses that data for personalization.

4, I have intentionally provided a bogus birth date. I really didn’t want to provide a birth date at all, but Facebook mandated that I provide one to have a better age experience. So, I chose a year out of my demographic range to learn what advertisements Facebook would serve me for that age range.

5. I will be “hiding” items from my timeline such as friend acceptances, and other items that I haven’t encountered yet, but once I do, I will write about what I hide to be transparent.

6. Since I am not approaching the research from a human subjects perspective, I will not (at this time) be including participants. If I do happen to make mention in my blog about an interaction (from my perspective), I will keep details of the person’s identity anonymous, and also not use direct quotes or information that may aid in uncovering the identity of the person.

7. I will also be playing with different features on the site, like changing my demographic information and viewing certain pages more than others to see what appears more often in my newsfeed.

What I do to Login

When logging into Facebook, I use a VPN. So far, I’ve logged into locations in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. Each time I login, I notice different advertisements on my screen. For example, here’s the most recent ad I saw this morning:

Advertisement appearing on my Facebook feed.

Advertisement appearing on my Facebook feed.

This personalized advertisement pulls from the following categories, my log data (I used a VPN to login to a site in Chicago) and the demographic information I added: Sex, “female,” and age, “40.”

Additional information I use to set up my Firefox browser include setting Firefox to privacy settings of “tell sites I don’t want to be tracked” and “Firefox will never remember my history.”

I also installed EFF’s Privacy Badger on Facebook to help block spying ads and invisible trackers.

As I continue interacting with the site, I will update the blog with more information.

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