Be careful what you say. You MUST assume EVERYONE is listening.
Every semester, I try to remember to convey this idea to my students in each of my classes. Those that use online social networking tools like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., must assume that when they put themselves out there, no matter where it is, anyone can see it. I understand that most of them require you allowing people to view your page and follow your status updates, but there is very little guarantee that your information is going to be kept confidential.
I tell them to think of it this way: Imagine that you are applying for a position or even a promotion down the road. Your boss sits down to a computer and “googles” your name. What will they find about you and how will that affect their decision to hire or promote you?
As for a professor who also uses these tools, I have to be very careful. I’ve set a policy for my blog that I will NOT discuss details about students in my current classes. And later on, if I do decide to discuss specific students, I will NOT mention any incriminating information (without their full permission).
I was forwarded an interesting article regarding this very issue this morning (HT: Jay S.). It is from the current issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education and it is entitled, “How to Not Lose Face On Facebook, for Professors” by Jeffrey R. Young.
He makes some of the same points in this article but goes on say:
But Facebook, like e-mail, yields more pros than cons, so the trick is to learn to master it rather than ignore it. That’s according to Nicole B. Ellison, an assistant professor at Michigan State University, who spent the past three years researching student behavior on Facebook, and who uses it herself. "There’s tremendous potential with these social networks for developing relationships and being exposed to different perspectives," she says. They are particularly well suited to academic work, where researchers need to keep up with a number of far-flung colleagues.
I totally agree with this and have been absolutely blown away by my ability to keep up with our past graduates plus finding alums from years gone by. It is an amazing tool for connecting with people. And no, I haven’t begun soliciting donations from them just yet but you never know.
On a related note, I still a little creeped out by the idea of a professor, like me, requesting connection (“Adding as a friend”) from my current students. If they request it from me, no problem, but the other way around just seems inappropriate. Plus, the Provost of our University is on Facebook and I have yet to request his friendship on there just because I don’t necessarily want him to know that I’m updating my status 4 or 5 times a day during work hours.
What boundaries have you set or would you set on a professor using social networks like Facebook?