While searching for interesting articles on technology in higher education, I stumbled across Kelli Marshall’s article, “It’s Getting Personal in Here” for Chronicle Vitae (https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1423-it-s-getting-personal-in-here), in which she discusses social media interactions with students and their effect on student-teacher relationships.
With the rising popularity of Twitter and Instagram and already widespread use of Facebook, students are gaining access to details about faculty members’ personal lives that may not have been available to them a few years ago. While this can help make faculty more relatable, it can become problematic if interactions shift towards inappropriateness or if posts are unprofessional.
As an aspiring educator who uses Twitter regularly for science outreach, this is something that I think about often. I believe in the importance of showing that scientists and academics are well-rounded people with personal lives, but I try not to share too many personal details. For example, my most recent posts include a link to our conference talk that was featured in the weekly newsletter of the main professional organization in my field, and a picture of my pet tortoise trying to eat a book (she mistook the photo of lettuce on the cover for actual lettuce, which she loves). I’d estimate my feed is about 50% science outreach and updates or retweets related to my field, 25% interactions with other people and commenting on their posts, 20% pictures of my pet tortoise/houseplants/garden, and 5% other topics. I don’t post anything that I wouldn’t want students or employers to see (or my dad, who enjoys reading my Twitter posts). I follow many of my professors who are on Twitter, but our interactions are mostly limited to retweeting interesting articles or updates about the department.
With Facebook, it’s much easier to control who can see your posts. I don’t use Facebook for professional purposes, so the only issues I have with Facebook and my professional life are deciding what to do when undergraduate students send me friend requests. I try to only accept requests from undergraduate students that I interact with regularly in person and am (ideally) not in a clear position of power over. As a graduate student, this second part can be a little tricky, since there is often at least an unspoken hierarchy between different academic levels. If a student working in our lab sends me a friend request, I only accept if I know them well and don’t think it will cause any conflicts of interest. If a student in a class that I’m TAing sends me a friend request, I wait until after the course is over to respond, to avoid potential questions of favoritism.
I am friends with a few professors that I have worked closely with or taken classes with on Facebook, but again, we don’t interact very much beyond “liking” posts and occasional comments. As far as I know, most of my professors are not on Facebook or keep their accounts private, and follow similar criteria for accepting friend requests from students.
What do you all think? Should faculty and students be friends and/or follow each other on social media? Where do you draw the line between being relatable and oversharing? Have you had any experiences where social media interactions with students caused issues?