Over the past few months, I have seen several press releases saying something to the effect of, “in a completely altruistic act, Meta (formerly-known-as Facebook) selflessly donates their ‘digital citizenship’ curriculum to millions of children in (insert developing country here).” 

Then the internet nods in agreement and applauds their efforts for being both helpful and supportive.

Did anyone stop to ask themselves exactly why Meta wants to do this? We all know that their efforts are never truly selfless, so what’s the game? What’s the catch? Why give so much away for free?

As a digital citizenship curriculum policy researcher who likes looking at the consequences of the big picture, it’s important to understand just why these multi-million-dollar corporations would want to suddenly “help out” all these folks without any payout.

When you peel back just one layer, you start to realize why this is a very dangerous situation.

Fundamentally, it’s great that Meta, Google, Apple, and Amazon want to create a more digitally-savvy public. After all, it’s in their best interest to stock the next generation of workers with digital literacy skills and prep them for possible employment at one of these great companies. Every digital economy research paper from the past ten years shows that there is a massive gap for tech talent, and that can only be filled by prepping the next generation with the necessary skills to fulfill that workforce.

But has anyone really looked at the curriculum? I mean, really looked at it? 

I have. And I have some serious concerns.

Problem one: Critical thinking – where is she?

Answer: Nowhere.

These digital citizenship curriculum courses are completely devoid of any critical thinking fundamentals. Critical thinking requires a healthy non-biased assessment of the information presented to you. A lack of critical thinking skills is the fundamental reason why we have so many harmful cults online, taking advantage of our lack of awareness and research skills. 

Critical thinking is the number one way to prevent misinformation, cyberattacks, and mental health scares. It also requires a critical look at your own methods and the platforms you use, which is a problem for companies like Meta or Google. They don’t actually want a fully informed public looking critically at their data sharing or privacy policies. If they did, the public would be understandably outraged by how their data is being mined and sold for profit. It’s not in their best interest to teach that subject, so they skip over that.

Problem Two: Self-sovereign identity – never heard of her.

Answer: Not available for discussion.

This topic is not even broached in their curriculum for children. Why is that? Well, self-sovereign identity means that you own your own identity – your personal data, photos, emails, everything. That means Facebook, Google and Amazon would have to admit that they control all the data they have on you. Then they’d also have to admit that they’ve been profiting off our collective information without any compensation for decades.

Self-sovereign identity means that, at the very least, they have to give you a share of the profits they make on your personal data. This fundamental concept is noticeably absent from all of the digital citizenship curriculum made by Meta, Google and Amazon alike. They want you to be digitally literate, but not savvy enough to realize they are stealing your information and selling your data for profit, with no personal return.

Problem three: De-centralized internet doesn’t vibe with Meta’s plans for its consumers.

A de-centralized internet means that personal data, from banking information to your cousin’s baby pictures, would be hosted across many sources that you can control, instead of just one, like Facebook.

Educating students about de-centralization is counter-intuitive to their interests, since they like having your photos and information centralized on their platform, where they can own and control its use.

So what’s the solution? We have the answer already: public education funded without input from corporate interests like Meta, Google, and Amazon.

We need public education that holds all people – users and platform owners – honest and accountable for their actions. If a company like Meta wishes to fund digital citizenship curriculum for millions of children in India, they should also fund the education system that supports that learning. A truly altruistic act from Meta or Google would be to provide funding and resources to local governments, giving them the opportunity to develop culturally-sensitive, local-economy-focused content that will benefit not only the future careers of children, but their immediate community needs as well.

As an educator, I have to take a step back and ask myself – our history is full of rich and powerful men making decisions for millions of people that ultimately serve their own personal and financial interests over those of the public – so why would we expect any different from companies like Meta?