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Facebook Revisited–New Policies for Professors April 25, 2011

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Culture, Education, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Teaching.
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It’s taken a while, but there is finally a growing realization among professors that “friending” their students is not such a good idea.  And school administrators are certainly also catching on. This from The Guardian (UK):

Teachers are being warned not to “friend” pupils on Facebook amid concerns over the blurring of boundaries between school staff’s professional and private lives.

In a fringe meeting at the National Union of Teachers’ annual conference on Sunday, teachers were told that pupils are getting access to potentially embarrassing information about teachers on their Facebook pages, while headteachers and school governors are increasingly using information posted on social networking sites to screen candidates for jobs.

Karl Hopwood, an internet safety consultant and former headteacher, told the NUT fringe meeting: “The line between private life and professional life is blurred now because of social media.”

The same concerns extend to the world of college professors and students, sharing a daily environment—but on a professional level, not a personal one. That distinction needs to be reestablished in this age of the social media, regardless of what Mark Zuckerberg may think about the declining value of the concept of privacy. I talked about the subject on this blog last year, where I explained my take on professors friending students (and got a great deal of very interesting comments), and my concerns then have only been confirmed in the past year. In the real world you have to be able to distinguish between who is your colleague, who is your client (for lack of a better word), who is your acquaintance, and who is your Friend…and then all the others who are just faces on Facebook.


More on Facebook and Privacy May 17, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, Technology.
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Nina’s post about privacy on Facebook thoroughly covered the issue.

But Facebook’s habit of thumbing their nose at privacy concerns provoked a couple of interesting posts on Crooked Timber as well.

Apparently, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and owner of Facebook, is quoted in a forthcoming book making some dismissive remarks about privacy concerns:

“You have one identity,” he emphasized three times in a single interview with David Kirkpatrick in his book, “The Facebook Effect.” “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.” He adds: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

As Henry at Crooked Timber points out:

Facebook appears to be deliberately and systematically making it harder and harder for people to vary their self-presentations according to audience. I think that this broad tendency (if it continues and spreads) impoverishes public life.

Kirkpatrick explains what is wrong with this:

Individuals are constantly managing and restricting flows of information based on the context they are in, switching between identities and persona. I present myself differently when I’m lecturing in the classroom compared to when I’m have a beer with friends. I might present a slightly different identity when I’m at a church meeting compared to when I’m at a football game. This is how we navigate the multiple and increasingly complex spheres of our lives.

And Kieren Healy argues that having integrity is not about having a consistent self-presentation:

Having an identity and having a secret are in fact quite closely related, and not just for superheroes. Here’s a piece from the Times from the pre-FB era that makes the point:

“In a very deep sense, you don’t have a self unless you have a secret, and we all have moments throughout our lives when we feel we’re losing ourselves in our social group, or work or marriage, and it feels good to grab for a secret, or some subterfuge, to reassert our identity as somebody apart,” said Dr. Daniel M. Wegner, a professor of psychology at Harvard. … Psychologists have long considered the ability to keep secrets as central to healthy development. Children as young as 6 or 7 learn to stay quiet about their mother’s birthday present. In adolescence and adulthood, a fluency with small social lies is associated with good mental health. … The urge to act out an entirely different persona is widely shared across cultures as well, social scientists say, and may be motivated by curiosity, mischief or earnest soul-searching. Certainly, it is a familiar tug in the breast of almost anyone who has stepped out of his or her daily life for a time, whether for vacation, for business or to live in another country. “It used to be you’d go away for the summer and be someone else, go away to camp and be someone else, or maybe to Europe and be someone else” in a spirit of healthy experimentation, said Dr. Sherry Turkle, a sociologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Now, she said, people regularly assume several aliases on the Internet, without ever leaving their armchair …”

This idea that it is dishonest or insincere to withhold information about oneself is fundamentally mistaken. Social life isn’t enhanced by brutal honesty and integrity is not about having a single self-presentation.

Integrity is a matter of consistently acting on the basis of one’s system of values and sustaining the value of the variety of things we care about. Not only is that consistent with having different self-presentations in different contexts—integrity requires a variety of self-presentations.

If I value my students and their education some facets of my private life will be irrelevant or inimical to their development. And if I value my family relationships, my self-presentation as a teacher must at times be suppressed.

But Zuckerberg does provide us with an example of the lack of integrity. As one commentator on Crooked Timber puts it:

Hey, you know what really is a lack of integrity is trying to conceal very obvious monetary motives behind a veneer of moralizing. How much more honest would it be if Zuckerberg just came out and said, yeah, we don’t give a damn about your privacy, this is how we’re going to make money. Then we could all know where we stand. The worst aspect of all of this is the pretense that anyone on Facebook’s corporate end cares about this and their projection of their own moral deficiencies onto people with legitimate privacy concerns. Not that I’m, like, surprised or anything.

It is easy for a straight, privileged man like Zuckerbeg to extol the virtues of a single identity while hiding behind his body guards and wealth. Women and anyone from marginalized social groups cannot afford to be so sanguine about privacy. But of course straight, privileged men tend to think they are the only people who matter.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com


Facebook–Where Everyone Knows Your Name May 6, 2010

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Culture, Current Events, Ethics, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.
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An Indiana woman’s home was burglarized recently, while she was at a concert. The culprits turned out to be Facebook “friends”;  she had announced, online,  that she’d be at the concert. With friends like that, we surely don’t need any enemies, as the old saying goes.  Facebook, along with MySpace and Twitter, is one of the institutions in which a generation may see itself mirrored and reach self-comprehension, and it is a fascinating phenomenon, socially, psychologically and philosophically. Most of my students, and most of my friends’ kids, have Facebook pages, and I see the amazing accumulation of “friends” displayed on their sites—in some cases thousands.  I think it probably compares to “counting coup” in the Old West, a new form of collection mania, or transition rites of adolescence (such as collecting phone numbers that you’ll never, ever call—as if they’re proofs of friendship). I assume that everybody knows this is just a new term for temporary, occasional contacts, and not genuine friends, but even so, words are seductive, and some of these contacts get to know a wealth of details about each other that I (coming from a different time and place—I’m kind of a time traveler. We all are, the older we get) would reserve for perhaps only two or three people in my entire life. A friend, to me, is someone who you do activities with (according to Deborah Tannen: the male friendship model), and/or talk about big and small things with (Tannen: the female model), or both. It doesn’t have to involve proximity: a friend can be a good friend, even if you don’t see them for years.  Online/phone contact makes up for physical presence in many of our current friendships. On the other hand, people you see every day and deal with on a superficial level, are acquaintances, not friends. So I am not a big fan of the friending phenomenon online, or the social websites where some people spend part of their social life—perhaps even all of it.

However, I, too, have a Facebook page, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing personal on it, on or behind the Wall. I don’t check it very often, because I don’t maintain it to accumulate friends. From time to time I get “friend” requests from strangers, and I ignore them. But quite often I get such requests from students—former and present. I appreciate the (presumably) amicable intent, and I don’t want to seem rude and alienate nice people—but on the other hand, sharing personal information with students  is downright unprofessional for an instructor, and may even be construed as professionally unethical:  are you more “friends” with students on your Facebook page than with the students who aren’t on your “friends” list? That could lead to the suspicion of preferential treatment of some students. In addition, it may in some cases invite trouble: some people can’t tell the difference between a real Friend and a Facebook contact, and they don’t know where the line should be drawn. So I don’t add anyone as a friend who is not either a real old face-to-face friend or a colleague I know personally, and on my page I state specifically that I don’t add students as friends.

But this issue goes way beyond such personal choices in changing times: it illustrates the new questions arising about how much and when to make oneself available to friends, to students, colleagues, teachers, and the world in general—because this is not an innocent world. Years ago, when I was the same age as students now collecting friends on Facebook, we loved Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan books, about the old brujo teaching the young anthropologist the secrets of power (as some of us suspected, most of those books were, shall we say, fantasies rather than actual anthropological reporting). One ground rule was, loosely paraphrased, Don’t give away too much information about yourself. The more you spread your information out there, the less control you have over your life. Now Carlos wanted to use this rule for a deeper understanding and use of the powers of the mind, but I’d say that it is a pretty good rule to bring back in these days when privacy is becoming a thing of the past. Our intimate information will soon be out there, anyway, whether it be through ubiquitous webcams, health records online, tax records online, or other means. And enterprising people—with or without political and legal legitimacy—will be able to mine all that information for power and profit. It is already happening. Why add to it by sharing details about your life, simply for narcissistic reasons? Facebook is being challenged by U.S. lawmakers as to changes in its privacy policy, which would allow  Facebook members other than your friends to access personal information about you—but even if Facebook restricts the access to “Friends,” it would not be much of a protection, when people add “friends” indiscriminately as a form of collecting trophies, and share details about their lives with untold strangers because it feels good. In addition, the phenomenon of phishing is getting increasingly sophisticated. This excerpt comes from a blogger who is a regular user of Facebook, Dan Tynan from ITWorld:

I still have a dozen other group invitations from various friends. I don’t trust any of them now. I don’t even want to click “ignore” on the odd chance it will somehow corrupt my account and spam all 700-odd people in my FB posse. So this spam attack has effectively killed that feature for me. And if spammers can manipulate Facebook’s group recommendations that easily, imagine what they could do to Facebook’s plan to butter “Like” buttons all over the Web.

We’ll see much more of this erosion of privacy in the future. So your old Professor Cautious recommends: think twice before you share your personal information with selected friends and accumulated strangers on Facebook and elsewhere in Cyberspace…

PS  The latest development from The Atlantic: The Facebook Privacy Wars Heat Up.

PPS May 11: In case you were in doubt: here’s what’s been going on since December, according to Wired Epicenter (long and informative article):