Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Facebook Police?

During a conference recently, I moderated a panel titled, The Supreme Court Is In Session: Ask the Experts. When we reached the portion of the program during which attendees were encouraged to ask questions or make statements about the current state of affairs with incorporating technologies into the classroom instruction, one gentleman in the crowd made the following statement:

I was told by my administrator that if I have a Facebook account, I will be fired immediately!!

Now, I've heard some crazy things coming from the mouths of administrators, but this one "took the cake." When the person revealed this truth, one word sprang to my mind: "insecurity."

Often, we talk about keeping our networks secure. That is a good thing. We even talk about keeping our fellow employees secure. That's a good thing--in concept, anyway. When we mention keeping students secure, though, that often brings on some new meanings. And, often, it involves some person "in charge," who has control over the environment in which the young person finds himself/herself.

Yes, we've heard the cavalcade of "excuses" why Facebook shouldn't be allowed in schools. However, in the same breath, we will create social networking situations that can be equally harmful, yet they have been accepted for many years and are not deemed as dangerous. For example, let's ask ourselves, "For how many years have schools had recess?" And, during recess times, don't we actually encourage students to interact with each other? We even create games and other situations during recess that force students to "network." What excuses do we cling to that lull us into believing these situations are not as dangerous as interactions on Facebook? Do we think that, since we're monitoring students' activities on the playground, nothing will happen? Oh, yeah. Right! Like we teachers on duty can keep our eyes on everything that's happening. Who are we fooling?

It's funny. One of the main advantages of Facebook for me is the resurrection of connections from former students and colleagues. Although many years have passed since we were together, we're renewing our bonds. And, the bonds we're renewing now are, in some cases, much stronger than they were "back in the day." Is there value in building connections among people? Is there value in our teaching students how to handle personal interactions? Is there value in "digging deeper" to learn more about the people we call "friends"? Is there value in focusing upon the true meaning of friendship?

Why, then, would a school administrator issue such an ultimatum to a teacher?

Many of you who read this blog are in-the-trenches practitioners. So, I await with great eagerness your responses. Please join the dialogue about this issue. And, for some great reading on this topic, visit Will Richardson's blog...or David Warlick's 2 cents worth blog.

Oh, and if I don't hear from you via this blog, perhaps I'll run into you on Facebook!!


das said...

This kind of draconian attitude toward social software is ridiculous and, sadly, reveals the ignorance many display toward these tools. It's unfortunate, because their benefits far outweigh their risks.

Email, telephones, and computers could also be used to waste time, engage in illicit or illegal activities, or embarrass your employer. Shall we ban those as well?

Abuse of social software that affects the workplace is not a technical issue; it's a personnel issue to be dealt with by that person's management. I understand the issues they think they're trying to prevent. They're just going about it in a completely wrongheaded fashion.

From a recent article featuring a colleague of mine, Chris Rasmussen:

"If I put inappropriate content on the office door, you don't ban the office door. These tools are held to higher standards than any other thing that I ever seen," he said. He noted that a lot of the concerns around "inappropriate content and the unwashed masses messing everything up hasn't materialized in the four years."

Sharon Eilts said...

Well, seems like threatening to fire someone is a little bit overkill. It would seem that putting a disclaimer on any social networking site (Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogger, etc.)would cover any comments and such. My daughter has a blog from her site in the Peace Corps and this is what is posted there:

"The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps."

It would seem if this disclaimer is good enough for the federal government, a similar disclaimer would be sufficient for any school district.


Anonymous said...

This makes me crazy! I am with you, I have reconnected to people from my past that I otherwise had no chance of finding. How can an administrator dictate what you do in your off hours (as long as it's legal). It is as random as saying if you go see that movie or buy that cd you are fired.

Dr. Larry Anderson said...

Dave and Sharon, your comments are right on least, in my opinion.

Isn't it interesting how we create double standards, then choose one of those standards and cling to it like a life raft? As Dave so aptly asserts, this is a personnel issue, not really a technology issue.

Now, to carry this discussion forward, what do y'all think we can do to fix these situations? How can we help educate those domineering souls who demand such strict adherence to rules gone awry?

Maybe that teacher should create a Facebook account at home, then wait to be fired. Of course, there's the strong likelihood that, should such occur, some attorneys will get new business. And, then maybe we could have a string of class action lawsuits. Who knows? Maybe the US Supreme Court could get involved so that we educators would have more of the Tinker et al v. Des Moines cases to guide us?

Or, am I just being overly facetious?

What say you?

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in seeing how the Facebook rule would hold up in court. I'd like to see how that's written into the contract.

Secondly, in response to das's quote on office doors- while doors would not be banned, we do live in the kind of world where you'd ban posting things on doors because one person did something stupid. That's done all the time and not just in education.

You see so much strident vocalization about openess and using these sites all over the internet but when I see school board meetings and parent meetings- I rarely see anyone supporting social software. I almost always see someone going against it.

If we are going to make any change in this sphere it needs to start with being more active at these meetings and, as educators, providing more and more positive PR when we do get the chance to use these tools. Until then, expect more bannings, blockings and stupider and stupider threats.

das said...


Yes, there are many examples of ridiculous rules banning some activity just to be "fair" or to try to have a mechanical solution to a social/personnel/management problem — which in the end is actually manifestly unfair.

But even in a world of "at will" and contractual employment, this is akin to saying that if you have a cell phone with a camera — because a cell phone might be used to transmit illicit photographs — you will be fired.

Facebook is one of the most popular social networking sites in the world, and is probably the #1 site visited by students in higher education aside from the schools own resources — for some students, probably eclipsing even those.

To ban this tool in an educational setting for instructors, even K-12, is disconnecting those instructors from reality.

Unknown said...

Facebook is a way to connect with the world that drifted (or moved) away. How awesome was it to be able to tell my high school history teacher (now retired and yes, on Facebook) that I am now a high school social studies teacher and that HE had a lot to do with that?

If we don't embrace Facebook, social networking and web 2.0 technologies in engaging our students we are doing many disservices. Research shows that parents (as a whole) do not understand technology so they stay away from it...unaware of what their child is doing. If educators and the schools do not take the responsibility seriously then we are not creating true digital citizens. How do students learn to be good digital citizens? By modeling good examples. Online and in real life.

Is it possible to even say that by banning social networking, we are continuing to solidify the digital divide? While we'd like to think this is a world where we are hired on our merits, networking plays a large role in finding a job, keeping it, and moving forward. Networking is key to life and here's an entire platform that encourages it. What students don't have access to computers at home? Those from low-income families. When and where are they supposed to learn about the wild web 2.0 if it's blocked in the schools?

At a conference last month I got to hear a wonderful horror story; the student, the sexual predator, the trip to Thailand. I also heard how the student's mother was excited her daughter was going to get to travel. Then there was the educator that went in and set up an account (not Facebook, but you can guess) and showed mom the profile of the predator, and his 800 girls between the ages of 12-16 that were his "friends". I wonder how many of those girls had adults in their friends profile? It's kind of like taking a kid to Disney World and letting them wander without parental guidance. This is all the more reason educators should have a forward, positive opportunity to role model the newer technologies.

The best way we can fight this narrow minded thinking is to share best practices and create lesson plans exemplifying how students and teachers can embrace the newer technologies to teach this next generation. Applications for Facebook can be made and customized for education. Why aren't we already doing this?

I'm sure I've gotten off topic with this comment but it comes down to early adopters versus those that want life to be the way it was 20 years ago. It comes down to those fearful and resistant to change.

Anonymous said...


My goal was not to support similar irrational behavior but simply to point out that it occurs far more and in many more venues than we'd like.

I'd also maintain that both k12 and higher ed have been divorced from reality for quite a while. K12 in particular is a far from reality as you can get in most cases. Our school blocked the word "blog." How's that for a divorce from reality?

All this seems tightly tied to a combination of fear and ignorance (if not sought out stupidity). It's a sad situation that I don't see getting better without a massive amount of positive PR which doesn't seem to be of interest to news stations. They do have a field day with any possible negative connection to social media or the Internet.

Anonymous said...

The response of the administrator could be a result of the horror stories associated with social networking sites or a personal experience of a disgruntled employee.

It is far easier to "block" and react rather than to develop a proactive stance such as incorporation of a digital citizenship orientation to all employees (and students).

photoboy said...

Good article, very interesting reading everyones thoughts as well. Just a few Twitter posts after this article, one of my higher ed customers posted this article on protecting your FaceBook account. I thought maybe it would be a useful reference on this topic.

The article also references this article

Tim David
Apple, Inc

Anonymous said...

The tail is wagging the dog again. It's time for educators to insist that the keepers of the gate have at least some idea of the pedagogical impact of the short-sighted decisions they sometimes make.

The next thing you know they may be banning roses because they have thorns or virtual trips to the Prado because there happen to be nude paintings in one of the world's greatest art museums.

Of course "NO" is the easiest policy to manage, but we live in the 21st Century where simple solutions are more often than not, simplistic solutions that cause more harm than they prevent. it is our obligation as educators to help young people learn to navigate through and filter responsibly the vast wealth of information available to them.

Perhaps educators need to take more assertive positions within their districts and force the issue.

Who gave IT departments the "Trump Card" anyway?

Unknown said...

This kind of stuff is crazy-making and, as so many comments have already noted, happens far too often in too many environments - not just education.

As several folks have pointed out the administrator's ban on Facebook would likely not hold water legally. Clearly this person has overstepped their boundaries and invaded the personal freedom of their employee. However, that wouldn't stop this individual from making another individual's life a living hell should they choose to ignore that ban.

The thing that disappoints me the most about this story is the lack of the big picture view by the administrator as a number of folks have already commented. The social networking "genie" is long since out of the bottle and is never going back in regardless of the number of administrative bans that pop up throughout the country. As someone once said "if you can't beat them, join them." Or perhaps more appropriate to technology "don't erase, embrace."

I am a devoted Facebook user. Admittedly, I was very skeptical of the value of such an application just several months ago. But having reconnected and strengthened my connections with so many people I can't imagine my life without a social network application. The value has been well articulated in many other comments already.

As I think about this story and many others like it from my own experience, the question about ridiculous directives of this sort that rarely seems to get asked and is generally never answered is "why?". Giving the unreasonable administrator the benefit of the doubt for just a moment, let us ask why they would make such an outrageous move.

Perhaps the administrator has heard the horror stories of predators and the harm that has come to children. Perhaps the administrator has heard the stories about seriously inappropriate relationships between teachers and students. Perhaps the administrator has heard the stories about employees defaming their coworkers, supervisor, or employer. Clearly the administrator has some legitimate responsibility to protect their students, their employees, and their employer. Protecting those individuals or entities with whom one is charged is a legitimate answer to the question "why?".

So, then the next question should be "how?". Is banning the best way to address a legitimate "why?" Certainly not. Embracing it likely holds greater promise. As I have tried to protect my own daughters from the obvious dangers, big and small, of the online world I find it important to be a part of the same environments they are. Even though I don't care for MySpace I joined that environment so I could monitor what my girls are doing and advise them against risky behavior.

If the administrator was truly enlightened they might encourage their faculty to join numerous social networks to have an opportunity to help protect their students and colleagues, as well as reap the legitimate benefits of the technology.

Of course, some wise moves might include providing some guidance to teachers about avoiding risky behavior themselves or posting disclaimers as others mentioned. Somewhere I read that kind of guidance is called something like "leadership". That may be the real deficit the banning administrator is experiencing.

My two cents,
Joe Moreau

Andra Brichacek said...


I am the assistant editor of ISTE's member magazine, Learning & Leading (L&L). We are looking for someone to write an essay for publication taking the pro side of the question "Can Facebook replace face-to-face?" for our popular Point/Counterpoint section. One of our editors recommended you, as you are an ISTE member who often blogs about aspects of social networking in schools.

When I say "face-to-face," I mean socializing rather than teaching.
Here's the explanation I sent out with the call for submissions: At the same time that students’ classroom interaction patterns are starting to become significantly altered by increased online learning opportunities, they are also navigating a very different social scene than they did a few years ago. Teens and tweens still love to chat and hang out, but now much of that friend time takes place via social networking sites and their mobile counterpart, texting, instead of at the mall or over the telephone. Does it matter? Do kids get something through in-person contact that they can’t get on MySpace, or vice versa? Do you think a gradual shift to text-based communication, as well as the multimedia opportunities that social networking provides, has a good or bad effect on social development?

I have received a couple of con replies, which you can find on our Ning. Would you be at all interested in submitting a 500-word essay taking the other side, that Facebook and other social networking can fulfill students' socializing needs and, in some ways, offer other benefits that face-to-face socializing might not for some kids (not necessarily totally replacing it, but supplementing it to the degree that it is now and will probably continue to)? If so, could you post it on the discussion forum on our Ning site above this week?

The upside is that your response would be published in the Sept./Oct. issue of our magazine, and you can link to your blog if you want. The catch is that I'd need it by Wednesday, as I have to have it edited and laid out by the end of this week. What do you think?

Andra Brichacek
Assistant Editor
L&L Magazine