Facebook Repercussions for Faculty

A first grade teacher in New Jersey posts disparaging remarks about her students on Facebook. A day later, she's suspended pending an investigation. The era of social networking makes this an easy trap to fall into. What's a modern professional to do?

social network

If you're reading this article, chances are favorable that you have a Facebook page. The likelihood's also pretty high that you sometimes use that page to complain about things or let off some steam after a frustrating day. It can be incredibly gratifying to have instant access to a network of hundreds of friends to share your irritation with. But with that easy access comes a significant drawback - the wrong person might be reading.

These days, it seems everyone's checking your Facebook page - and that doesn't just mean your friends. Plenty of news outlets have reported on potential employers vetting their applicants by doing a social media check. Some college admissions boards have even gotten into the game, using Facebook pages to gauge whether a student has accurately represented him or herself in the applications process.

Social media's effect on the world at large is a generally new and unexplored frontier. Part of that includes the ethics (or lack thereof) of investigating people's private lives through their social media outlets. If an employer wouldn't hire a private investigator to check a job applicant out, it stands to reason they don't have much more of a right to spy on them via Facebook, right?

Facebook

With an issue like this, there's no clear answer. But there are a few points that those on both sides of this argument may want to keep in mind.

There is a limit to the privacy level of anything posted on Facebook. Even if you've checked and double-checked your privacy settings (which you should absolutely do if you don't want unwanted attention), the whole point of using a social networking site is to share. If you post something for your friends to see, there's no telling if one of them will repost it for their friends, and suddenly your best efforts at privacy spiral out of control.

Facebook only shows certain aspects of an individual. Employers and schools need to realize that most folks do not and will not show their professional side on a site designed for interaction with their friends. Now, that's not always true; some people use social media purely for professional networking purposes. However, just because a high school senior takes to his Facebook account to talk about going to parties and reading X-Men comic books, it doesn't mean there's not a rich academic life within him as well.

There's no standard for what counts as offensive. It's possible that someone's honest expression of beliefs on Facebook (religious, political or other) could strike a potential employer as troublesome. That seems incredibly unfair, especially in the likely case that one's political or religious philosophy has little to no bearing on the job they're going to do. The issue of employer bias in hiring has been contentious for years, and extending it to the world of social networking only complicates things further.

Social media has its positive uses too! Check out how some teachers put it to work for them.

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