Can Students Be Required to Join Facebook?

Last month, following an article in The Times about the struggles teachers, schools and districts are having when it comes to safe use of social media, SchoolBook offered some advice for teachers and five concrete tips for using Facebook. Linda Fogg Phillips, who wrote the five tips post, is Facebook’s consultant on education and parent matters. Here she responds to a question from a SchoolBook reader. If you have a question or suggestion about social media, respond to the query below.

Q.

Thank you for your article about Facebook in schools. One question I have is about the legal/political risks involved in requiring students to become a member of a 3rd party site. While the group page may be private, by signing up for Facebook, the student is open to risks elsewhere on the site. While realistically, most kids seem to already have an account, there are always people waiting to sue and I’m imagining the parent of that one child who otherwise wouldn’t have joined Facebook and then ends up with hurtful posts on her page. Has anyone encountered that or are there legal protections or other privacy settings that would resolve this potential issue?

I look forward to your response.

Thank you,

Barbara J. Beachley

A.

Hi Barbara. You bring up a very good and relevant point. I personally feel that it is inappropriate for a teacher to require students to join Facebook. As a parent, I would have a problem with this, as I do when teacher requires my children to watch movies/films that I feel are inappropriate for them.

Teachers need to avoid requiring students to have an account. If teachers do choose to use Facebook to support what they are teaching in the classroom, accommodations need to be made for students that are not on the social network site.

As you noted, most kids over the age of 13 are on Facebook, so the issue of a student not having an account most likely will not be common, but still a possibility that teachers need to consider.

As far as the legal ramifications, I am not an attorney so I am unable to provide any advice in that respect, but unfortunately in our litigious society, people do sue each other without justifiable cause. The best defense is for us, as parents and educators, to take the responsibility of becoming informed and knowledgeable regarding Facebook and the online world that our children function in. Then, in turn, we need to teach our children how to navigate that environment safely.

Facebook does have default privacy settings that have been designed to protect minors. These settings can be adjusted to be even more secure and restrictive, but they can not be set to be more open and public than the default. This is a good feature for minors using Facebook that often gets overlooked. Teachers can also set the privacy settings for a Group to be private and unsearchable, making it more secure for students.

Just like a hammer, any tool can be used productively or destructively. As we focus on using technology productively and teaching our students to do the same, we will be able to engage them in education using methods that facilitate learning in a world wide classroom without the limits of four walls.

With this knowledge, I believe that our students will be able to build an incredible future for themselves and mankind that we never knew possible.

Thank you for such a great question!

Linda