Social Media in Education: Privacy and Friending

Part 4 in the Series: Social Media in Education

There has been much attention given in the media recently to the use of social media tools, especially Facebook in education. Much of that discussion is around K-12 public education and social media use between teachers and students. The state of Missouri passed a law that stipulates that each school must have a policy in place defining what is and what is not appropriate with regards to social media use. There are a number of issues that must be considered when employing social media in your college classroom. Two of those issues are privacy and friending.


Privacy Social MediaIt is imperative that you become familiar with terms of service policies and privacy settings available in the tools you employ and you must stay familiar as they frequently change. Animportant part of using social media responsibly in the educational context is knowing the policies and settings of the tool(s) you employ and educating your students about key elements of those policies and settings. You should incorporate a statement about privacy and related issues in your syllabus and also inform your students about the potential concerns and specific settings in the social media tool(s) you plan to utilize.

Whatever social media site you use — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn — read the privacy settings on the website. Then read them again. Each site will have its own unique settings and privacy policies. These can be your life-lines. Andrew Heller discusses a few best practices for managing your personal and professional identities that could be helpful for both you and your students.

Examples from Heller include:

  • ¬†“Facebook: Create lists to organize personal and professional contacts to control what they can or cannot see.”
  • “Twitter: Tweet responsibly . Avoid “oversharing”. For example, try to avoid tweeting about a screaming match you’re having with a significant other. But if your organization is global, sharing information about a recent travel adventure could be helpful.”
  • “LinkedIn: Twitter and WordPress Feeds. LinkedIn allows you to automatically feed tweets from your twitter account to your profile page. If you want to avoid personal tweets being posted, add the hashtag #in and only those tweets will appear on Linkedin.”

For more examples from Heller:

A final important note about privacy that should be incorporated into your syllabus or other course documents is that students will have access to other student’s work and they should use that information ethically and to avoid plagiarism.

To Friend or Not to Friend?

Educators employing social media for instruction must consider professional boundaries and behaviors with your students. In an article in Faculty Focus ( ), Kathryn Linder summarized a few of the key ideas related to this issue. One of the most important issues she raises is the notion of “friending” students in Facebook. It is clear that if you are going to “friend” students you have to friend all students. You should also not have students accessing your personal Facebook or other social media spaces. She asks the important question “How much do you want your students to know about you and how much do you want to know about them?”

Professionalism clearly demands that certain lines are not crossed. If you use social media for instruction then you should also exercise appropriate discretion when using these tools personally. Faculty behavior in these spaces may be used as a model by our students. For example, faculty members should avoid association with social media groups with explicit sexual content or views that might offend or compromise the student/teacher relationship.

A few questions to ask yourself:

Do you truly understand the privacy policies and settings in social media platform you plan to use?

What social media platforms don’t require friending or have good privacy settings that could be used easily to separate personal from business?

Want to read more about social media in education?

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