If all registered Facebook users (about 300 million and growing rapidly) were their own country, it would be the 3rd largest country in the world. It’s an odd country, though. All of its “residents” live in other countries and are subject to those countries’ laws. So what laws is Facebook accountable to? Kind of a murky question, that. The most recent flap, and the one that probably ticks the most people off, is Facebook’s ever-changing, always confusing policies about the privacy – or lack thereof – as to users’ data. Today (May 31) is, in fact, “Quit Facebook Day.” As of this post, 32,056 “Facebook quitters” had signed the online declaration, representing a whopping 0.01% of all users. Let me know how that works out.
When I signed up for Facebook, I didn’t do so to keep to myself. I did it to connect and reconnect.
My greater worry with Facebook (and with MySpace before it, and with Twitter, and whatever the next flavor of the week will be) is the ease with which predators can connect with young people, gain their trust, and victimize them. This report by Kansas City’s ABC affiliate KMBC highlights the shocking truth that it is not illegal in many states for sex offenders to use Facebook. In fact, in Kansas they don’t even have to register their Facebook names with the state! While Facebook attempts to kick sexual predators off as they find them, the sad reality is that anyone can pose as someone they are not. There is no way for Facebook or law enforcement to verify all user data.
This scares the snot out of me. Not only for the sake of the young people I serve, but also for my own sake. If I’m not diligent, I myself could come across as trying to prey on young people, when my motivations are pure. I don’t want to be thrown into the same bag as guys like this (I’ve subbed at both schools mentioned in the story). So, what follows is a collection of a few best practices I’ve set for myself as it relates to connecting with students outside of face-to-face. I have ordered them in terms of ubiquity, starting with the most likely technology for students to use.
Cell Phones and Texting
- Don’t send kids texts during the school day. They aren’t supposed to have phones in class, and you don’t want to be the chirp that gets the phone confiscated. However, if you know that a kid keeps the phone safely ensconced in their locker like they’re supposed to, leaving a voicemail during the day to say you’re praying for them can be a huge encouragement.
- Don’t send texts after about 9 PM on school nights, or maybe 10-11 PM on weekends or during the summer. Kids don’t need to be texting in the wee hours, especially not with adults they aren’t related to. That said, if a kid sends you a message at 11:30 telling you they’re scared because their mom just collapsed on the kitchen floor, you spring into action and mobilize the care response just like you would with a call to your home line.
- If students send you texts during the school day or late at night, follow up with them and probe for why.
- Does anyone know of a good way to archive or back up text messages for your records? See below for a suggestion for Facebook or other chat.
- “Friend” the parents of your students generously. It can be a great way to connect and share logistics.
- This should be a no-brainer, but only invite or confirm students as friends if you actually know them. Like, in real life.
- As with text messages, notice if kids are using Facebook during school and gently challenge them on it. Many do have the capability of updating via their cell phones, so they MIGHT be doing it only between classes. Ahem. Of course.
- Depending on how much your students actually use Facebook chat, it’s a really good idea to archive these sessions to your computer. Here’s how.
- Be thoughtful when you tag photos, especially related to privacy settings. Who will be able to see the pictures? Don’t ever set it to “everybody.” At most, I’d recommend “friends of friends” if not “friends only.” I tend not to like tagging students that are, again, technically too young to use Facebook in the first place. But we do post pictures of our events on Facebook, and it can be a cool way to share with parents. However, I’ve had a lot of fun posting old pictures (ancient, like 5-6 years ago) and tagging students that are now juniors or seniors. Many a long comment thread has commenced as kids reflect on how young they once looked.
- Consider your own online profile. Don’t make things up, but are there pictures of you doing things your students would question? What groups have you joined? What pages have you “liked?” It’s all there to see once they are your friend.
- A few words on other social networking tools. Some ministry contexts may still see more students using MySpace than Facebook. The guidelines are probably very similar. I deleted my profile long ago as it became so overrun with porn and spam. MySpace is often used by bands, though, so students may still use it.
- Twitter is not at all common for most of our teens, nor is writing their own blog outside of the microblog format inherent in Facebook. These types of tools are understood by adults to be much more public anyway (the Library of Congress has begun archiving our tweets!), so maybe it’s best if students stay away?
- Some middle school students use it, some don’t. Connect in this way if it’s helpful.
- Most high school students I know highly prefer Facebook and/or text messaging to email.
- Keep in mind that email is exceptionally easy to forward (with or without modifications) and can even be introduced as legal evidence. Never hit “send” in anger or frustration.
Postcards are gold. A kid will probably post it on her mirror and read it dozens of times, but only after the parent reads it first.
- Postcards are gold. A kid will probably post it on her mirror and read it dozens of times, but only after the parent reads it first. They are totally worth your time! Of course, not being in an envelope means everyone can read it. That should be a very good thing, right?
- Don’t miss birthdays. I use Good Todo for reminders to send cards. Use whatever you need to, just don’t miss them.
One more thing: Don’t be afraid to “go dark.” It’s not healthy to be available all the time, nor to post anything and everything. Read my article at Youth Specialties for more of my thoughts on unplugging regularly.