What Should Be the Boundary of “Friending” People on Social Media?

Last month, I shared a news video, reporting that the State of Missouri passed the law of “limiting” the amount of contacts that a teacher may have with his/her students on social media. According to this NBC News video, the City of Dayton, Ohio is moving a step forward --- the city’s public schools’ teachers and staff are prohibited from communicating with their students online or over text.

Jill Moberley, who spoke for the Dayton public schools, acknowledged that students are leading the social media trends and that they heavily use social media in communication. And because of that, she believes that the School District should be “forward thinking” by “prohibiting” the communications between students and teachers/staff on any form of social media or texting. “Children and teachers have to be protected,” says Dr. Dianne Parks-Love, a grandma of a student, “when you set parameters, then the protections are there; and there is no room for misunderstand.” Parents who support the School District also feel “friending” between teachers/staff and students will create a conflict of interest.

I certainly understand why people are worrying about the “social-networking connections” between students and professors, teachers, and staff. I am, however, very pleased that universities are a little bit different from high schools because most college students are no long “children.” Social media is where people communicate these days. Rather than blocking my students who choose to communicate with me on their preferred medium, I believe that I, as a professor, have the responsibilities of setting a good example for my students on how people should and can communicate professionally on social media. How can I accomplish that? By communicating with them in a professional manner on social media.

Actually, I wonder if the legislators are aware that some social media tools, like Twitter, do not even need to get a user’s permission before another person can “follow” this user. In this case, whom should be “punished” or “sent behind bar” if a student follows his or her teacher on Twitter? In addition, if one knows Facebook well, s/he should know that one can still receive updates or feeds from another person as soon as s/he sends “friending” invitation to that person, regardless if the person “accepts” the invitation or not. These days, universities and companies are actively using social media in recruitment and student/job candidate selection; professors and admission staff also actively communicate with prospective high school students on social media. So, under the “forward thinking” rationale, when the high school students get accepted, they should no long be allowed to talk to their professors or staff on social media anymore?

There is nothing wrong with setting the boundary. My question is what boundary is more appropriate when social media has become an almost must-have communication tool for everyone? Instead of trying to build the “Berlin Wall” among people, I feel it is more realistic if the administration sets up a practical “social media policy” and reinforces the policy at work. In this particular case, it may seem more effective if parents and teachers can educate themselves as well as students of what are the appropriate and inappropriate communications/behaviors on social media. What do you think?


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