Safe Social Media for Educators
What is Social Media?
Social media websites are free, web-based services that build online communities of people who share interests and activities. Many programs now can be accessed through mobile applications - for smartphones like the iPhone and Blackberry. Common social media sites include Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, etc.
More than 500 million people are Facebook members, with nearly 250,000 new members signing up each day. One in five people use Twitter or a similar service. At least one in every four Americans has a social media profile. Many PSEA members and Pennsylvania students use social media sites to keep in touch with classmates, family and friends.
The result? When you post photographs and personal information on one of these sites, you could be sharing them with millions of people around the world. For teachers and education professionals, an inappropriate page on one of these sites could lead to disciplinary action or dismissal.
When used appropriately, social media sites can be a valuable, powerful tool for professional development, sharing of resources, and social interaction. It's ok to use Twitter and Facebook to connect with friends, family and colleagues. PSEA encourages members who choose to use social networking sites to be careful and thoughtful about the information you share, and with whom you share it. To help, we’ve provided a few simple tips to encourage social networking safety.
Think before you post
Each time you post a photograph or information on the web, make sure you would gladly show it to the following people:
- Your mother
- Your students
- Your superintendent
- The editor of The New York Times
Even though the First Amendment protects your speech as a private citizen on matters of public concern, that speech may fall outside of First Amendment protection if it “impedes your employer’s effectiveness or efficiency, or otherwise disrupts the workplace.”
Avoid posting anything on your profile page about your colleagues, administrators, or students, as well as using inappropriate or profane messages or graphics, or anything that would reflect negatively on your workplace. Be aware that social meida applications, quizzes, games, and other related features also can result in content appearing on your profile page. Make sure that anything posted on your page is appropriate.
For more tips and information on content and photographs, visit the Useful Terms, Blogging 101 and Social Networking Tips and Information pages of this section. PSEA's printable Safe Social Meida Advisory contains more information on safe social networking.
Know your “friends”
When accepting “friend requests” or adding individuals to your friend list, keep in mind that these individuals will have access to most information you post. Be sure not to accept a friend request from anyone you do not know. Do not accept friend requests from your students or their parents. If a student or parent of a student messages you through a social media site, do not respond.
Be sure not to post any photographs of yourself or others that could be considered unprofessional or inappropriate, or link to any material that could be considered unprofessional or profane. If a friend tags you in a photo or other content that could be considered unprofessional or profane, remove that tag and ask your friend to remove the content. Regularly monitor photos and other content in which you're tagged and remove tags as necessary.
Protect your Privacy
Protecting the privacy of your information is an essential part of safe social media. Most social media sites have privacy settings to allow you to control who can see your profile. Make sure you are familiar with the privacy settings provided by the site that you’re using. Often, privacy settings are used to limit profile access to the individuals on your list of “friends.” Even if your information is “private,” make sure everything you post is professional and appropriate.
For more info on privacy settings, read 5 Easy Steps to Stay Safe (and Private!) on Facebook (New York Times, September 2009).
Find more social media tips and information for PSEA members.