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Facebook Privacy Scandal Congress

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg returns after a break to continue testifying at a House Energy and Commerce hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 11, 2018, about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election and data privacy. 

AP PHOTO, JACQUELYN MARTIN

TWIN FALLS — Of the myriad uses for Facebook, one common one for parents: checking the social media giant for announcements and photos from their child’s school.

But privacy concerns with the social networking site have surfaced in the wake of a scandal involving 87 million users whose data was swept up by the political data mining firm Cambridge Analytica.

As a result, some schools nationwide are taking a closer look at how they’re using Facebook — such as to communicate with parents and share school announcements — but few are making any changes or deleting their pages, Education Week reported April 6.

Here in the Magic Valley, a handful of schools are monitoring their audience’s engagement with their Facebook page to see if anyone is leaving the site, but haven’t noticed any major differences and are still posting as usual. But some are improving non-Facebook options that people can use to find information about school happenings.

“We want to showcase and highlight the positive aspects of school life, as well as use it as a communication tool,” Cassia County School District spokeswoman Debbie Critchfield said. “But we’re also mindful of the privacy aspect and that we’re dealing with minors.”

The desire to publicize school happenings never trumps privacy concerns, she said.

Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg testified earlier this week on Capitol Hill. Some legislators touted their various proposals for privacy protections, including bills introduced this week responding to the data mining scandal.

At the College of Southern Idaho, spokeswoman Kimberlee LaPray said she’s monitoring engagement with CSI’s Facebook page to see whether privacy issues have scared anyone away. “We haven’t seen a dip in engagement yet. It may get worse.”

CSI plans to keep posting events and notes about things happening on campus, she said. “We will continue what we’re doing now until we see some sort of dip or negative turn in our numbers or our analytics.”

But college officials are being more vigilant about keeping CSI’s website more up-to-date with news and events, LaPray said. It’s a project the college’s information technology staff was already working on, but recent news about Facebook “proves it to be more important to get it done so people have an option to look in different locations.”

For those who choose to access CSI news via Facebook, “our information will still be there,” she said. “For those who choose to go elsewhere, our website is available and updated.”

Twin Falls School District spokeswoman Eva Craner said she has been following stories closely about the Facebook data mining incident, but “my understanding is it applies more for individual users rather organizations.” But “the privacy of our students and families is something we take very seriously,” she added.

In addition to following the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act — which protects certain student educational records from being disclosed — the Twin Falls School District asks parents to fill out a media release form each school year.

It allows parents to decide whether they want their child to appear in photos posted on social media websites and the school district’s website, for instance, or in news stories. Parents can pick and choose which platforms they’re comfortable with or decline to have any information released about their child.

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In Cassia County, the school board doesn’t have any plans to talk about the impact of the Facebook privacy scandal, school district spokeswoman Debbie Critchfield said.

The Cassia County School District was an “early adopter of social media” — particularly Facebook, which it has used for about eight years, Critchfield said.

Critchfield is the primary person who manages the school district’s Facebook page, and posts on it two or three times a day. But school employees manage their individual school’s Facebook page.

Since the school district started using Facebook, it has set strict guidelines. That includes getting parental permission and not using any student names.

“We’re very conscious of being able to protect the privacy of students and teachers,” Critchfield said, “and not being able to have someone clearly identified by all the information we gave.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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