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Social networking policies: you can't fix stupid

 When men are pure, laws are useless; when men are corrupt, laws are broken. - Disraeli

You can't fix stupid. Ron White

Teacher posing and then posting with a male stripper.

Two interesting blog posts crossed my radar this week. The first was from a couple years ago (via Dr. Doug Green) about the stupid and mean things educators have done on Facebook. (Eight Ways Teachers Get in Trouble Using Facebook. Sites and Blogs, April 2011.) Included in this post are egregious examples of educator bad judgement:

  1. Making fun of a student's hair by posting her picture
  2. Complaining about the low character of students
  3. Joking about a little girl's death
  4. Posing in pictures with alcohol
  5. Flirting (or worse) with students
  6. Leaking standardized test information
  7. Mocking the poverty of your school district
  8. Appearing in pictures with a stripper

Eight out of, what, three million plus K-12 teachers in the U.S.? Given that 46% of Americans qualifies as mentally ill at some point in their lives*, teacher are a remarkably sane group. Or perhaps the people who committed these acts were stupid (see quote above) or drunk (see poster below). So while thousands of teachers and student use social media daily without incident, we create rules for the idiots and the irrational. But I suppose this is also why we have helmet laws and plenty of other policies as well.

The second post is Scott McLeod's insightful "My thoughts on a proposed social media policy for school employees (Part 2). In it he takes Iowa educational leaders to task for creating a social media policy for employees that he doesn't much like. (Actually I think most of it comes directly from those that Jen Hegna and I wrote in back in 2009.) He opines:

  • The policy reads as if you don’t trust your educators.
  • For those occasional instances of inappropriate use, I don’t believe that you need a separate ‘social media policy.’ (Are we treating these resources differently because of format bigotry?)
  • You’re alienating your most technology-savvy educators.
  • The policy is unwieldy and partially illegal.

While I did not fine the proposed policy nearly as onerous as Scott did, I agree with his general sentiments. The major disagreement I have with Scott's criticism that such a policy is not needed at all - that such a guide indicates a distrust of employees. Social networking and its role in education (and society) are new phenomena, uncharted territories for which most of us don't have a good map. To me, the Iowa document would be better described as a set of guidelines than as a policy. And I do think thoughtful guidelines are necessary for the use of any technology that may cause harm to the user or others (see examples above.) 

Logically, people would automatically apply past experiences, rules, and ethics to any new situation created by technology. And this is not so difficult when we are using technology to simply enhance current educational practices. But when Scott and others foment for radical restructuring of the educational process with the assistance of technology, it is more important than ever to assure those being restructured have some guidelines.

It's interesting that since Jen and I wrote (what I think were some of the first) social networking guideline, how the conversation has changed from "Don't use social networking with students at all" to "Use social networking for a purpose and with caution." A healthy transition that I can remember going through with questions the internet itself  and e-mail in the mid-90s. We cautious educators tend to ban it until we can figure it out - and since kids' well-being is at stake, the only ethical approach.

Oh, Facebook itself has a guide authored by Steve Anderson called “How to Create Social Media Guidelines for Your School.” The document takes no stance (wimps) but defines a process for creating social media policies. Worth a read. Facebook in Education


I didn't want my boss thinking this was picture of me drinking so I used a monkey.
Odds are good she'll know the difference.


*Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE (June 2005). "Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication". Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 62 (6): 593–602. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.593. PMID 15939837

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Reader Comments (3)

I guess I'm a sure bet to comment on this topic, huh?

Teachers reading the Edutopia "Facebook in Education" guidelines need to keep in mind one extremely important fact (well, two): Neither Edutopia nor Facebook, as entities, are school districts which are heavily regulated in terms of how student information and professional correspondence/conversation are managed on an organizational level.

While school districts and media companies may share some of the same lofty goals as we seek to educate children, our regulatory frameworks are vastly different, and those differences vary from country to country, state to state, county to county, district to district, and even site to site. Teachers who make teaching practice decisions based on policies and recommendations created outside of their immediate teaching environment are taking a huge risk.

Yes, use those wonderful Edutopia (and others!) guidelines to drive discussion and push for change, but reference your local policies and affirmed practices before launching into the uncertainty of social media. Those who claim they'd "rather ask forgiveness than ask for permission" can find themselves asking for their classroom back if they cross into territory unsupported by local policy.

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill Storm

As always, you made me laugh several times reading this post!

I do agree that some of what was in that school district's list could have been tweaked a bit and turned into useful guidelines for educators. But it was framed as policy, not guidelines, and that (plus wording/tone) makes a difference. Policy should be simple and broad. Guidelines/recommendations can be more specific.

Thanks for extending my post over here, Doug. As an aside, that 'format bigotry' idea/post of yours still is holding strong years later. That was a great one!

May 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterScott McLeod

Hi Bill,

As always, sound advice. I would add that we can use resources like Edutopia to help change our local policies as well, if they are outmoded.


Thanks, Scott. I appreciate you starting the discussion. As a native son, I know those Iowans can be a stubborn bunch. (Remember the song from the Music Man?)

And we're so by God stubborn
We could stand touchin' noses
For a week at a time
And never see eye-to-eye.


May 10, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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