Friday, December 3, 2010

The Ethics of Facebook

The statistics on the popularity of social media networks is staggering. The social networking website Facebook, for example, reports that it currently has more than 500 million active users, fifty percent of which log on to website each day. Furthermore, people spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook. (

Initially, Facebook was a website utility that allowed users to connect with other individuals subscribing to the service. However, it has evolved and individuals or organizations are able to create pages promoting something that they care about on Facebook. As a result, Facebook users are now using the website to do things like promote their business, promote a cause for which they are passionate, or promote an event.

With statistics like these, it is apparent that many educators and students are using Facebook, and they are using it often. Today's students find Facebook to be an engaging and useful tool. As a result, many educators have started using Facebook for educational purposes. "Teachers can utilize Facebook for class projects, for enhancing communication, and for engaging students in a manner that might not be entirely possible in traditional classroom settings" ( For example, teachers can create a Facebook page to share multimedia with their class. Or, students can use a class Facebook page to brainstorm and share ideas with their classmates and instructor. Example of some other very innovative ideas for ways to use Facebook in an educational setting can be found at 100 Ways You Should Be Using Facebook in Your Classroom. Facebook itself also has a page regarding can best use Facebook. Visit to see examples of topics that include setting up blogs for kids, social networking tips for teachers, and ways that specific Facebook games reward the brain.

Some critics have pointed out potential ethical problems with using Facebook in education. For example, a 2009 New York Times column by "The Ethicist" titled A Facebook Teaching Moment ( discusses a teacher who became privy to her student's underage drinking after connecting with them on Facebook. Similarly, in November 2010, the St. Petersburg Times published an article about a Florida "High School English teacher and cheerleading coach who resigned this fall after buying a "morning-after" contraceptive for a student and having inappropriate Facebook discussions with the girl's boyfriend" (

Some of the ethical and privacy issues related to using Facebook in education are addressed in at the websites below, which provide educators with best practices for using Facebook in education are:

Educators who use social networking in their classrooms must make good decisions when it comes to using social media in their classroom. In other words, they must remember that teachers are in leadership roles in the eyes of their students, and they are often held to higher standards than people in other professions because they should be role models for their students.

In the case of Facebook, users sometimes feel a sense of anonymity while on Facebook because they aren't face-to-face with anyone. They feel a sense of comfort, and an ability to share things that they wouldn't necessarily share if they were actually face-to-face. However, teachers must remember that they are ethical leaders.

Dr. Chris Unger, Professor of Education at Northeastern University said in his lecture on Big Ideas on Ethical Decision Making for Educational Leaders, "Decisions are driven by what's inside us, but shaped by our context." In other words, the decisions that teachers make are based on their beliefs, knowledge, and prior experiences. However, they are also influenced by the context of the situation as it presents itself. Therefore, whether or not educators decide to use Facebook in the classroom is in somewhat irrelevant because they must be conscious of trying to make the best decisions that they can in all of the different situations that they encounter.

Contexts of Ethical Decision Making by Professor Chris Unger, Northeastern University


  1. I loved your blog. Technology is growing so I am glad you touched on, especially Facebook. I know schools use it a lot now to get messages to student but we also need to be aware of the privacy issues as you mentioned. Since Facebook is commonly being used, I was wondering what your thoughts were on whether an educator should allow a student to "connect" and be friends with them on Facebook? Would you accept a request from a student?

  2. Hi Kimberlee,

    Thanks for the feedback!!!

    I have a Facebook account but I don't generally post my status. I also don't log on regularly. I do have one former student who I am "friends" with but he is is a student in an evening program where I taught. We became "friends" after I taught the class because we had a mutual business connection. I have thought about what I would do if another student wanted to "friend" me. Since I tend to be a private person, I don't think that I would want to be their "friend." However, I do think that I would like to use it for educational purposes at some point if I found a good application for it. I think I would just set up another profile for it. What about you?

    I am also cutting and pasting some "Facebook guidelines" below that we received from one of the schools where I teach. I though that you might be interested.

    "Hello All!

    Hopefully you are all having a wonderful summer! I wanted to send you a quick note based on questions and comments I have been receiving from the Class of 2014 (and other classes) in regards to connecting with the college, staff, and faculty on Facebook or any other social network. Two of the major concerns include:

    * If their Professor “friends” them on Facebook, do they have to accept? If they do not accept will that negatively impact their rapport with the Professor or their grade.
    * Should they “friend” their Professor? What if they don’t and everybody else does?

    Although it’s easy to look at these concerns and wonder why they are on the top of the students minds, take a step back and see the relevance to their generation (and what we hear in the news). College students feel a divide between using the service to keep in touch and share with friends and family along with figuring out (and discussing) the weekend plans.

    One of the major benefits of social networking is, you the user, decides how you want to utilize. Some keep their profile only for family and/or friends (make sure you check your privacy settings often), others are 100% open on networking and some are in between. Regardless of how you use the service, it’s important to communicate this and I suggest putting a “disclaimer” on the side bar of your profile.

    Example: On my sidebar (right under the profile picture) my note says: Also - my policy - if you are a student, feel free to connect - I don't "creep" on photos or your profile - will accept if you request (you’ll notice the use of the word “creep” that comes from student vocabulary; it means to look at all photos, constantly check for new ones, and search photos and profiles for wrong doing). My policy allows the student to make the choice to connect (I do not friend request them – they must request to connect) rather than putting them in any type of awkward position on deciding to accept or deny any request.

    If you have opted not to connect with students and you receive an invitation, the best practice would be to hit ignore and send a message through Facebook (you can do this without being connected – most of the time) or an email letting them know you strictly use Facebook for family and friends. Additionally, suggest they connect with you on LinkedIn instead!

    Please remember that all laws (including, but not limited to FERPA, HIPPA, FTC, etc) and college policies, procedures, and privacy must be observed on social networks."

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