Saturday 14 December 2013
I’ve written this post before – I think it was at about the same time, December, in 2011. However, in the last few weeks it has become apparent to me that I need to rewrite the 2011 post. Back then it was titled something like ‘How Could You Be So Dumb?’ and it was a post on Social Media for educators. Well, here I am, at it again, attempting to impress the need for common sense in Social Media to people in the field of education.
Let’s get this straight out, right now.
You cannot be a teacher or education assistant or anyone who works with kids and accept their friend requests across your various Social Media platforms. It is considered an act of grooming if you do.
For those of you who are unsure what the term ‘grooming’ refers to in this context, it refers to actions that are made deliberately with the intention of establishing and cultivating relationships and connections with children in order to lower their inhibitions with the express intent of preparing them for sexual assault or exploitation.
Now, this is probably not your intent when you accepted that friend request from a student at your school, however, in the eyes of the department and the law that is what you are doing. It does not matter if the students you’ve accepted friend requests from are a) not in your class any longer, b) have never been taught by you, c) are from your time as a prac teacher or relief teacher or assistant, d) are known to your own children. The law does not differentiate between any of these, if you are in education or childcare. If these students, or children as I like to refer to them, and you friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, circle them on Google+, follow their Instagram or Tumblr or blog, or allow them to follow, friend or circle you, you are engaging in grooming whether that is your intention or not.
Can I be any clearer about this?
Consequently, it also impacts those who you are already friends with, especially if they are also in the field of education. Let me explain this a little further . . .
- You accept the friend request of Jim, a 12 year old at the school you currently work at.
- You also have friends – Sally, Don, Carla, and Frank – who are teachers at your school and at another nearby school.
- You post a neat Facebook status update about what you’re doing on the weekend, and it involves going out to Sally’s birthday party.
- Sally, Don, Carla, and Frank all ‘like’ your update.
- Jim, your 12-year-old friend, can now see that some of the teachers at his school are friends with you, just by the simple act of them ‘liking’ your post.
- Jim can now creep their profiles.
- Unfortunately, Frank and Carla have not adjusted the privacy settings on their Facebook accounts, and Jim can see just about everything they post . . . including the photo that Frank posted of Carla in a bikini when they were on holiday in Phuket.
- Sally and Don have adjusted their Facebook account privacy settings, but Jim can still see anything that they’ve chosen to leave as ‘public’.
- Jim sends friend requests to Sally, Don, Carla, and Frank.
- All of them are smarter than you, and decline his request.
- However, new Facebook settings now ensure that when someone sends you a friendship request, despite you declining their friendship, they are now subscribed as ‘followers’ of your account and will see anything that you chose to leave for ‘public’ viewing.
So, through one ill-considered, bloody stupid action of friending some kid at the school where you work, you have placed four of your Facebook friends in a shitty position. It’s important to note though, that it’s not just tied to children who attend the school where you work. It encompasses any child at any school.
Of course, there are exceptions. For example, if you could state, beyond reasonable doubt, that the child you’ve accepted the friendship of is a relative, you might have a case.
By extension, teachers, education assistants, childcare workers, administrators, etc. should not befriend the parents of students online either. That also crosses a professional boundary. Consider what would happen if a parent you had established an online association with, and whose child you taught, saw that drunken photo of you and Sally at her birthday party? Or they read that heated update you posted about another parent? Or the update you posted on your boyfriend’s wall about what was going to happen on Friday night when he got back from work? There goes your professionalism. And need I mention the Code of Conduct document that we were all required to sign could be put into use regarding you bringing the profession into disrepute. And before you try to tear that thought down, don’t bother because it will be used. Maybe not today, and maybe not next week, but someone will call you on that online behaviour. Your leg to stand on? You don’t have one. You signed the Code of Conduct document. Remember that.
Rounding things up . . . again . . .
Anyone who works in education should not:
1) accept the friend requests of children
2) accept the friend requests of parents of students from your school (or any other school)
3) post anything online that you wouldn’t be happy to show your boss.
Teachers, education assistants, childcare workers, school administrators – be smart about being online. Protect yourselves, your friends, and the masses of children online who are all so eager to grow up and join the adult world.