The Problem with Facebook Is YOUR FRIENDS!

I know that since the Facebook Friending 101 for Schools I did here that my friend Sue Waters has since come out with a handy guide for Facebook over on Edublogger about the Why and How of Using Facebook for Educators. And Facebook has created their own Facebook For Educators guide. In this guide, Facebook notably DOES NOT talk about “friending students” per se. But does suggest using Facebook groups and pages.

Privacy Option Issues
The PROBLEM I have is point number three in Sue's edublogger article:

Despite what you may hear, there are strong privacy options that you can set up so only those that you want can access your information”

The primary problem as I maintained in Facebook Friending 101 is NOT you. Although there are educators who post innappropriate things on their walls all of the time, MOST of you IF you are using it with your students are not. These privacy options ARE NOT ENOUGH for the scenarios I've presented.

The Loopholes are There
We've had a very long conversation over on my Facebook page about the loopholes that STILL EXIST in Facebook. Honestly, I want someone to prove me wrong on this. I would love to be able to friend my students and do all kinds of things on Facebook but there are several incidents I blogged about in the earlier post that almost landed our school in HOT WATER. AND IT WASN'T THE TEACHERS – it was the teacher's friends!!

Kids can see your wall and what friends post
So, a new educator I've met through the conversations on my Fanpage, Fred Roemer, has been using Facebook with his students but instead of just the emotional response of,

“I'm going to use Facebook with my students because I want to doggone it.” foot stomp and walk off that most educators who are passionate about using Facebook do, Fred is getting in there and helping TEST the settings.

If we have more of us like him we can actually ASK Facebook for what we need to have to use with students. Here is what Fred Did and found. (You'll also see another progressive educator, Shani Benson in there testing it as well.)

Join this conversation

EVERYONE who is your Friend can see your Wall
Fred confirmed that your friends can see each other's replies on your wall if a person has access to that post in the first place. They can see each other and follow the link from there even if they cannot see it on the left.

Well, why do you care about that?

Profanity on Your Wall Most Likely Comes from Friends
A recent article on Mashable showed research from Reppler that surveyed 300,000 Facebook users and found that:

“47% of those users have profanity on their Facebook wall. Of those, 80% have at least one post or comment with profanity FROM A FRIEND. [emphasis mine] Posts and comments with profanity on a user's Facebook wall come from friends 56% per cent of the time.”

I would venture to guess that for teachers that percentage is higher.

Students Stalk Teacher Pages
As I've been mulling this over in the weeks since I first saw Facebook 101 and have seen the people who insist that it is OK to use Facebook with students because this is not an issue, I've come across this comment that I reblogged on Tumblr.

Posted on

If you are friending them, they are all over your page.

I want to reiterate a bit about the incident that had us in Facebook Frenzy at our school without revealing too much information.

Someone in our community – an adult- posted HORRIBLE things on his page. Because the adults were friends and the students were friends with the teachers and adults, they were exposed to it. Some people blamed the school because of the link the school caused. The school's facebook IMMEDIATELY unfriended everyone and we went ONLY to a FanPage.

So, how about groups?
So, I got ready after reading Sue's post to set up groups and come back out with a way to do groups with my students. I could care less if I eventually have to retract EVERY word in Facebook Friending 101 for Schools and in fact, I pray that every issue there is dealt with so it is a NON issue.

So, I set up a group. BIG PROBLEM. You can only add your friends to your groups. Since I don't friend my students, I can't even start the group off. I don't know how I'm going to get the students in the group without some sort of friending/ unfriending shenanigans that I didn't have time for at the end of school.

Am I using Facebook at school?
YES. I have some authentic research from some of my Digiteen students that I can now go public with because the “sting operation” on their generation is over.

Operation Fake Facebook Friend
They created two profiles for “Operation Fake Facebook Friend” because they were concerned about the proliferation of fake Facebook profiles that everyone KNEW were there but people were friending because they wanted more friends. In three weeks each profile accumulated more than 300 friends with the girl profile reaching almost 500.

But the fact my students proved in their research is that students are indiscriminately friending people that they do not know and even more so friending profiles of people that THEY KNOW FOR A FACT ARE FAKE just to have more friends. Expect a full blog post on Operation Fake Facebook Friend later.

The School Fanpage Rocks
Our school Facebook Fan page is a hub of activity and has more subscribers than our e-newsletter. We have a group for Westwood alumni that many of us join.  The annual is planning on using surveys on our Facebook page to put in the annual. IT IS GREAT. We are using Facebook at our school. EVERY SCHOOL SHOULD HAVE A FANPAGE.

I wish Facebook were perfect because I love it.
I wish these weren't issues. But they are.

I like Facebook. It has a lot of potential. But right now the mix of personal and professional is not acceptable and the CONTROLS ARE NOT IN PLACE TO KEEP THOSE TWO PARTS OF AN EDUCATORS LIFE SEPARATE. PERIOD.

I wish I was wrong. I'm ready to be proven wrong. But so far, most people fall into either one camp or the other with very few in the middle trying to figure these things out.

Recommendations For Facebook Right Now
So, what can we do right now?

A Fan page seems to be the only way to go EXCEPT you can't make it private and someone could use it to target your students. So, it looks like creating a separate teacher account that you only use for school and using a group with your students while not forcing them to friend you is pretty much the only way we can use Facebook right now.

Let's Move Ahead
I know I'm going to get lectured and flamed again about how dumb I am that privacy settings are the way to go – but if you'll listen. THE PROBLEM IS NOT YOU, Teacher, IT IS YOUR FRIENDS.

And right now, it is that exposure that got me burned and I wouldn't be doing any kind of service to you as a reader and as someone I respect and admire if I just laid down and took the popular view on this issue.

Let's work through and test this issue. Head over to the Facebook post and let's TEST for goodness sake and start operating on fact instead of emotion

Facebook FACTS
The Fact is that Facebook is here to stay and we have to learn how to peacefully co-exist with this valuable tool in ways that protect students, our professional integrity, and allow us to have personal lives with our friends from college and beyond.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Miguel Guhlin May 30, 2011 - 2:43 pm

Vicki, thanks for your post. The real problem is that 1) Individuals still think they can act one way in private, another in public online…and there’s no division between the two; 2) We think we can tolerate that kind of behavior from those we associate with. Think of it this way…”birds of a feather facebook/tweet together.” (smile)

My policy, which appears to work but still results in occasional moments of embarassment when I notice it, is to unfriend anyone who uses profanity and does stuff that I don’t want to have associated with me. I encourage my children to do the same.Is that enough? I fear we live in a place that isn’t sanitized, linking/connections are desirable, and sometimes, those links will be inappropriate. This is why appropriating adult communication tools for use with K-12 students will always be bleeding age and problematic. Yet, this is real life and we must model appropriate behavior. Thanks for working hard to clarify the path ahead for adult learners.

Miguel Guhlin
Around the

Dean Shareski May 30, 2011 - 3:05 pm

I’ve been struggling a bit lately with the whole idea of identity and our efforts to make ourselves so sterile and squeaky clean and we completely abandon any attempts at forgiveness.

Long sentence, let me explain. I’m all for trying to show our best selves online. I’m also an advocate for openness which means that sometimes, we’re not always at our best. Not to say we feel free to offend and extend all our private habits and behaviours in public but we already know the lines of private and public are blurring. Case in point is this post which suggests that our students now can see who our “friends” are. I still say being smart is important but lately I’m beginning to wonder when we start teaching and modeling forgiveness. If a “friend” of ours writes profanity on our wall I think we can do as Miguel suggests but at the same time I have friends who occasionally use profanity and I don’t believe my association should and would be a problem.

I guess I’m wondering when do we begin to take a stand and give one another some slack and forgive. I know everyone believes in that idea in theory but organizations seem less flexible and open to forgiveness. I get that. I know  you’re just trying to do due diligence here and I appreciate the information. I just think at some point our conversations about privacy and protection in order to save reputation and embarrassment should aslo include a lesson or two on forgiveness. 

Bud Hunt May 30, 2011 - 4:24 pm

Interesting discussion.  I find the nature of this entire conversation to be troubling – the “problem” with someone’s Facebook wall is their friends?  So our friends are problems? That seems the wrong frame.

IF there’s a “problem” here, it’s that the tool that you’re exploring isn’t designed to do what you want it to do – to hide aspects of your digital self from people with whom you interact.  One could argue that such hiding is deceptive – but I won’t try to plead that case here.  I get wanting to separate one’s personal life from one’s professional life – and I also would argue that the ease with which we’ve done so in the past, thanks to analog distance, has made the idea a bit illusory.  In both our professional sphere and our personal sphere, we should probably be reaching to be the same person, even though we fall short on plenty of occasions.

I’ll say that we’ve seen some power locally in putting information out on Facebook – it’s where folks’ eyeballs are – and the potential worries and excitement of that is a mixed bag.  I appreciate your work in exploring this area – but I don’t share your frame that our friends are our problem.

I think the notion that public/private is a set of separate containers rather than a continuum is a bigger issue – one worth thinking through.  Every time you want to mask some relationship or object from someone else – student, parent, “friend,” etc., I hope you’re asking yourself why deception is a good idea.  And, yeah, I know that “deception” isn’t the right word – all the time – but sometimes, it most certainly is.

I share Darren’s general feeling about Facebook – it makes me uncomfortable.  Digging in to “teach” inside of Facebook feels awfully creepy treehouse to me. 

coolcatteacher May 30, 2011 - 7:50 pm

People won’t forgive the school. They are angry at the school if because of the friendship with the school or a teacher that their child is exposed to a horrible issue. I lived it. I got the phone call and the irate parents yelling at me after a ballgame.

As a Christian, forgiveness is so important to me because I need it. It would be nice to be perfect but no one is going to be perfect online. But, for me, it is a matter of intentionally putting myself and my students in a situation that is flawed and I cannot keep them protected. As “Cool Cat Teacher” I have way too many “friends” and I can think of in one case that one of those “friends” ended up being removed from their district for child pornography – a horrible case of it. One I never would have “suspected.” I haven’t publicly talked about this person but the incident had me reexamine everything.

I don’t friend my students nor my own children – that has to be handled separately if at all. Of course, if a creeper wants to see their stuff, my students have PROVEN that kids are friending fake profiles and creepers CAN do it that way. But I couldn’t live with myself if I was a living link for a problem such as this to arise.

This is a tough one and I’m glad we’re having dialog about it. Yes, we do need to know that there are times to take a stand and times to forgive. Of course, parents won’t forgive us as teachers because we are expected to be more.

coolcatteacher May 30, 2011 - 8:00 pm

Well, of course, the word “friend” here is being used as Facebook uses it. And it is based on a factual event that happened at my school. I think that most likely it is not the teacher’s behavior but the behavior of one’s “friends” that becomes a problem – at least in my experience. If you look back at the original 101 article it was about the links between us and our friends and our students when we “overfriend” and mix our personal and business.

For us at school, it was the “friend” that was the problem – not a staff member, not the school, but the fact that students at the school were linked to an off-minded adult THROUGH school staff members who were a “friend.” Was this person a close “friend” of theirs – NO – not for even a one of the staff members but are they a “friend” on Facebook. Yes.

So, I believe that the exposure for teachers of mixing “friends” and “students” is way too high. I know a lot of schools have said that this is not allowed anyway.

I don’t advocate deception and don’t heavily use the privacy settings in my own facebook. The whole premise of my series of articles here is that mixing Facebook friends and students is a BAD IDEA.

Maybe I should reread my own article to make sure that comes through loud and clear – I’m not sure that is what you got out of my article. ;-)

dkuropatwa May 30, 2011 - 4:03 pm

While it was my students who first “taught” me Facebook I don’t “friend” students until I no longer have a “teacher-student” relationship with them.

I’m uncomfortable with Facebook. The essential issue I have with FB is this: FB regards me as their product, not their client. This means that what I want from a SN and what FB wants from a SN are at odds with each other in a way that makes me uncomfortable. It seems to me the concerns I, or anyone, might have with FB emerge from my personal or professional desires to connect in different ways online.

While I agree with Dean about the importance of teaching & learning forgiveness I think we come at privacy from slightly different points of view. And I’m not sure that teaching forgiveness in public “by design” is the way to go. (I realize that’s putting a spin on Dean’s comment that he may not have intended.)

I try to keep my personal and professional lives separate online. Of course each occasionally leaks over into the other. While I’m all for “learning to swim in the water” I think I ought to choose waters that are less likely to have sharks in them.

The paradox for me is this: I think the open social spaces online, like blogs, wikis, flickr, delicious, etc. are less likely to have “sharks” than FB. I know you can find all sorts of unsavoury stuff in these spaces. Yet, when we create and gather in groups around a wiki, blog, or flickr groups to teach and learn we are less likely to encounter people or things we’d rather not expose our kids to than we are by connecting personally with students on FB.

Mind you, with all that said, there are teachers doing awesome stuff with kids on FB as early as grade 1.

It’s rarely the tool that’s the problem, it’s how it’s used. I like the thoughtfulness Fred Roemer models.

Dean Shareski May 30, 2011 - 8:32 pm

I hear what you’re saying I just think we move to quickly to phrases like “people won’t forgive the school”. All people? It’s not all people, it’s some people. Loud people, emotional people, but certainly not all people. We know that this is usually about squeaky wheels and yes emotions run high when it’s “their” kid. 

As I said due diligence is important and certainly I”m not advocated friending anyone or telling anyone how they should respond. 

What I’m wondering about is how are we modeling forgiveness? I think it’s time that when you get an angry phone call or a parent goes nuts that we put as much effort into educating them about what a “friend” on facebook means as well as allowing people the chance to make mistakes occasionally as we do about protecting our privacy. 

Just seeking balance here. 

Shauna Pollock May 30, 2011 - 10:07 pm

Long time reader, first time caller, er, I mean, commenter!

I think it’s vital to model digital citizenship to our students. If we’re not doing it, who is? There are so many adults in their lives who are terrified of social media and either ignore what their kids are doing or ban it outright.

I use facebook with students (I teach grade 7 and 8) and find it helpful and a new way to reach them in their own worlds, meet them where they already are (some for 5-6 hours every night!).

However, my personal facebook account is used to stay in touch with family and fiends near and far (mostly afar). I tell my students some things about my life and interests, but don’t need them to see my informal check ins with my “friends”, jokes and links shared or the tenuous connections I still have with some high school acquaintances!

What I’ve done, and have found successful, is to have a personal facebook account associated with my personal email address and a professional account associated with my school board email address. In this way, “Missy Pollock” (at the time sI started my account, faebook wouldn’t allow me to use “Miss” as my first name and “Missy” stuck!) has an online presence, I will occasionally log in (2-3 times weekly in recent months) and can keep in touch with former students, post reminders about spirit days, fund raising and school events. This was particularly helpful when we had to cancel an evening event and I posted it as my status update. By the time we got through calling all the homes, many students already had the news from my 15 second update.

My personal account is off the search engines on facebook. So much so, in fact, another teacher and I who met digitally were unable to fiend each other on our personal accounts!

Right no, this works great for me. I also have several email addresses for different reasons and three active twitter accounts for different functions. Not everyone wants to manage that many different accounts and I understand that, but it works for me and I haven’t seen the “professional facebook” account discussed here.

One that last thing, my “Missy Pollock” account is not a space where I spend a lot of time, but I’ll sometimes see profanity, bullying, racial slurs, etc. in my “News Feed” and this gives me a great opportunity to take advantage of teachable moments and have a private chat with students involved and then a class discussion about the general ideas of digital citizenship. S

Sorry for the rambling, but I’m happy to see this conversations taking place in a calm, coherent, informed way! I wanted to throw my two cents in!

Miguel Guhlin May 31, 2011 - 1:53 am

A few more thoughts shared here –

With appreciation,
Miguel Guhlin

coolcatteacher May 31, 2011 - 2:42 am

Shauna, it seems like the way you are doing it seems to be a good way to handle things. It makes sense. It is tough because of the hypocrisy of it all. Kids are supposed to be 13 to be on Facebook- an age they hit some time in 8th grade. So many kids below that age are there.

I am glad we are talking about this and talking with practical real life discussions. So much of what is said isn’t true. Facebook knows that kids under 13 are on there in droves and yet they pretend because of COPPA. Something isn’t right with all of this.

Vicki Davis
Sent from my iPad

coolcatteacher May 31, 2011 - 2:45 am

I lived it. In theory asking for forgiveness sounds good but we should plan to do it right. We will have to ask f or forgiveness but it shouldn’t be plan a. We should try to do things right which means that teachers and administrators shouldn’t mix personal and professional.

Vicki Davis
Sent from my iPad

Dean Shareski May 31, 2011 - 3:07 am

I’m all for people being aware, making good decisions but am not comfortable telling people they shouldn’t mix personal and professional. Depending on how we define “personal” sometimes it’s totally appropriate. I would rather make people aware of the potential, as you’ve done here and let them make a decision. 

At the same time your original point about your friends posting something inappropriate seems like something we should be much more vocal about and willing to defend. I’m not suggesting do whatever then ask for forgiveness but I am saying there needs to be much more modeling and forgiveness and the willingness to handle mistakes and guilty by association situations. 

Lori Stone Sirtosky May 30, 2011 - 11:23 pm

I agree with you that our personal facebook identity should not be “friending” students or potentially even former students, but I think using the Facebook page of type Public Figure > Teacher is a pretty good way to put up the barrier. Only interact with students via that persona and keep the other one locked down to people who are not your “friends”

Sue Waters May 31, 2011 - 3:59 am

Thanks for continuing the discussion Vicki but I have to confess it isn’t my post. 

Ronnie Burt, my colleague, wrote the Facebook post on The Edublogger.  Ronnie and I both now write on The Edublogger and it has been catching people out — sorry about that :(

We’ve just found that in some many different ways we complement and enhance the work each of us does that blogging together is a nice extension of what we do.  And off course it is nice to wake up in the morning to find I’ve written a post while I was asleep :)

I’ll alert Ronnie to your post so he can drop past and share his thoughts. 

Ronnie Burt May 31, 2011 - 4:10 am

I love the discussion going on here! And thanks for mentioning the post on the edublogger!

I would like to point out that while I agree friending students may not be for everyone (though I am an advocate for a page for all teachers), you can create friend list which allow you to hide your wall, friends, and just about everything from your students even if they are friends with you.

For my former students, I have it set so that we are friends, but the only thing they see of me is my profile pic, the schools I went to, and where I worked. No wall, no political info, list of what I like, etc. But they are free to send me messages and I can see what they are up to too. (I do use the same list to filter out all of their posts from my live feed to be honest). 

This is definitely a conversation more educators need to keep having – I fear for the places where the heavy fist has come down and it is completely banned!

EdTechSandyK May 31, 2011 - 4:49 am

Vicki, I created a Facebook group for a graduate class I was in last Fall, made it private and set it so folks could join on my approval only. If I remember correctly, I posted the link to a message board inside the courseware and also told them how to search for the group on Facebook. People joined who were NOT my Facebook friends. The group still exists although it is no longer active since we have all graduated. I’m willing to test this functionality with you if you like. Email me if you are interested.

EdTechSandyK May 31, 2011 - 4:57 am

Vicki, I apologize. Never mind my previous comment regarding groups. I just did some investigating and I see they have changed how groups function since the fall. Another “caveat emptor” of using Facebook to connect with students or colleagues – the privacy settings and features of how things work change often!

Kalinago English May 31, 2011 - 9:44 am

Cool Cat, with you – 100%.  Love Social Media, really, but sometimes I think common sense has gone straight out the window.  Most of us don’t invite our students down the bar, to the restaurant, to our birthday parties, for dinner…into our private lives – can not figure out why folks think that they’re not doing exactly that when they open up their FB pages.  Silly.

coolcatteacher May 31, 2011 - 11:51 am

I’m publishing this note even though I see your next comment that it no longer works this way. This highlights another issue. The constant state of flux of Facebook’s privacy settings aren’t conducive to the consistent stable environments we like to have in our classrooms.

coolcatteacher May 31, 2011 - 11:52 am

Yes! You are so right. Things change often. I left the comment in and published it because I think there is valuable in the learning you exhibit here. YOU INVESTIGATED. Applause. This is what we have to do!

coolcatteacher May 31, 2011 - 11:52 am

We are so eager to use social media in every part of our lives that we don’t think if we should. This points to the need for separate educational networks.

Doris May 31, 2011 - 6:15 pm

I came across your blog randomly, but thought you might like to know that on Facebook, you can create “lists” and put assign friends to a certain list. Then, you can change your profile privacy settings so that some lists can see parts of your profile (like your wall, photos, etc.) and others can’t. Hope this helps!

coolcatteacher May 31, 2011 - 7:21 pm

yes. I know you can do lists. Mention that in Facebook Friending 101. However, there are flaws with lists as we’ve gone into. For example, even with lists, they can see each other and get to each other’s profiles if you have a wall post they can all see. There are so many holes with mixing students and personal friends that it is best for educators to not do it. ;-)

Jon Oaks June 6, 2011 - 3:54 am

I think the point that people keep on forgetting is that Facebook FORBIDS ANYONE from creating more than one account (i.e., one for professional and one for personal).  See the Facebook FAQ:

Dave June 6, 2011 - 6:55 pm

It’s very important to model appropriate behavior for students, but that’s not an open and shut case, either. Is it appropriate to de-connect from anyone who does something that a parent could hypothetical raise issue with, or is it appropriate to embrace people worth embracing despite their faults (and any hypothetical parent protests they could incur)?

The true appropriate behavior is that situations have to be evaluated individually rather than with blanket rules.

You say that the real problem is that individuals think they can act one way in private and another in public/online, so I have to ask: when you “unfriend anyone who uses profanity and does stuff that I don’t want to have associated with me” are you removing those people entirely from your personal life, or just your online presence?

coolcatteacher June 6, 2011 - 8:02 pm

It is best to keep our personal and professional accounts separate. And the protest I dealt with wasn’t hypothetical it was real. As one who lived it, I hope people listen and keep it separate.

Vicki Davis
Sent from my iPad

Amanda June 8, 2011 - 2:40 am

Facebook for school wrong! Kids act to friendly, no privacy on your profile. I mean really?? using facebook at school. There is to many thing you cannot control on facebook and just because is facebook student thinks that can talk what ever they want.

I prefer to use an online gradebook like which has all the features that a teacher needs plus is a teacher, student parent relationship on the site, parents can monitor their student progress and communicate with teachers. Students can in the other hand collaborate with their work, since we started using socialmaestro we notice that kid were more involve, even if was just to post a comment or check out the site, they kept using it and sending message, posting on a whiteboard, eventually it made things easier for to follow up from home I recommend you guys to give it a try

Bu using facebook for the classroom is a no no. People expose too much information on facebook no privacy and it was not build for teacher, student, parent collaboration and communication in the classroom.

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