Saturday, October 30, 2010

Personal Time and FB

I admit it -- like most people, I have a Facebook page. And yeah, I'm an actual human on there. I'm only friends with people who are actual friends, never in a million years would think of accepting a friend request from a current or former student, so I curse (as I do in my office hours and walking to my car and in/between classes and in the grocery store and...) and make exceedingly general comments like "stupid students are annoying."

A few weeks ago, I had to add the school I teach at to my networks to add a group (best way to get information) for the academic fraternity I'm a part of. Unbeknownst to me, Facebook decided to take this opportunity to take my super crystal clear, couldn't be clearer, really, really fucking clear "friends only don't let anybody see anything ever" privacy setting and change it so that anyone in my school's network can see anything. Anything.

Now, first, it pisses me off that FB just decided to change my shit without telling me. But what's worse is how I found out about these changes. Y'see, my boss sent out a rather nice email stating that he'd had some issues with students bitching about FB and that we all needed to check to make sure of our privacy settings. I immediately looked and found the above changes as well as one of my students, one who isn't doing so well in the course and who has overall seemed pretty damn apathetic about doing anything, including coming to class, but she's never gotten anything less than an A in her entire life on a paper and here are her accomplishments and how could I ever give her a D.

My assumption that I was one of the people being bitched about was correct, of course. It was probably this girl who bitched to him in the first place. There was nothing in any way specific on there, a few "fuck" or "fucking"s, some "grr stupid students" and "damn these papers aren't getting any easier to grade"s, but mostly my status updates are things like "damn I'm up way too early" or, more and more, "need to finish this paper...." The one thing my boss specified? A general feeling of "not acting in a professorial manner."

I have never, ever even stated that I had a FB, much less made it accessible to students. As my boss said, it might be simpler to just close my FB down so it's never a problem again. Here's why I'm not doing that, though.

The page is mine. It's my personal space, used only in my personal time. I don't even check it during office hours, dammit! I am a human and as such I deserve some time, some space in order not to be simply "Ms. May." If a student sees me pushing a cart in the grocery store, that is NOT the place to ask me about their homework. It never will be. If they see me buying alcohol at the liquor store that's none of their fucking business either. And no matter how I act outside of class and office hours, that's none of their business because hey, at that point I'm off the damn clock which means I'm no longer theirs.

What I really want to do is use this girl's FB against her as she obviously did against me. Fair game and all, right? So she should be totally fine with me questioning how she, as a person not able to legally imbibe alcohol, can "like" beer pong, or why her status updates for the past week totally don't match her "I didn't turn in my paper because I was sick and then I hurt my ankle" excuse(s). I bet she wouldn't be too happy with that turnabout, now would she?

So, I ask you, is it our obligation to always act in a way that students would approve of or are we deserving of being actual people with outside lives just as they do? Am I in the wrong here or should my FB be off limits, regardless of what my privacy settings are (and honestly, who the fuck goes out and looks up their professors on FB anyway)?


  1. I have a Facebook page too, and I assume everyone does, and like you I have a "nobody but my friends should EVER under ANY circumstances be able to see ANYTHING AT ALL on my fucking Facebook page", and thanks to Facebook being run by complete assholes, they change the privacy settings every other bloody week so as to interpret the above to mean "total strangers should be able to find anything they like about you at any time including your name, your home address, your phone number, your income and whether your sexual preferences involve feathers and melted chocolate". Which means that whenever I think of it I check my privacy settings again because the people who run Facebook are genuine lying scum who really want to destroy your life.

    BUT I like to keep up with my friends that way and they're all on it. So I keep my account. But I have it set so that only friends can find me, even if they search for my name. And I've just gone back and deleted every application that had access to my account, something I do from time to time. And I discover that Facescum has magically added two things that weren't there last time I checked - apparently my "education and interests" or some such, and my "location" were available to EVERYONE, which must mean that my profile would show up on a search. Those categories weren't there last I checked. So I have set them both to "Friends Only". It's like playing Whack A Mole; every time yo ulook around Facescum has added some other category and set it to "everyone who's ever stalked you can find you through this back door we've just put in here".

    So: check your privacy settings frequently, and tell your Dean firmly that whether or not you have a Facebook account is your own damn business, part of your personal life, and that you have a right to have one of those. You can reassure him that you do your best, despite Facebook's best efforts, to keep your posts friends-only.

    And you can tell him, finally, that you would not dream of searching for your students online or using what they had posted against them if you stumbled on it accidentally, because that would be an invasion of privacy; and that you assume you will be accorded the same courtesy.

  2. "like most people, I have a Facebook page"

    I'm sure you meant to write "like many people ..."

    "Unbeknownst to me, Facebook decided to ... take my super crystal clear ... privacy setting and change it so that anyone in my school's network can see anything. Anything."

    See above. This is precisely why many other people don't have a Facebook page.

    "...(and honestly, who the fuck goes out and looks up their professors on FB anyway)?"

    You're kidding, right? You don't know that profs look up students, students look up profs, employers look up job applicants, job applicants look up prospective employers, etc., ad nauseam? What world do you live in, May?

    Oh, I forgot - the one where most people have a Facebook page and think that they can control information about themselves after they put it out on the WORLD-WIDE WEB (not a misnomer).

    You have no privacy. Get over it.

  3. You know, the easiest way to solve all of this is to give yourself a pseudonym. it's not hard. you can do it in account settings by changing your name. also, make sure you are unsearchable by google.

  4. "You have no privacy. Get over it."
    - szoszolo

    I'm sorry but the Hungarian(?) dude's right; once info is out on the web it's everybody's business, and those spastics at Facebook make it too easy to go data mining. You see, I never got a Facebook account nor one from Myspace because I remember what an anarchic mess the web was in 1997, and so I've kept to Internet 1.0's rules of no real names, never give out any personal info anywhere, and hide your email. Nobody bothers me, and Norton handles the rest.

  5. Folks, I hate to tell you, but it's not -your- Facebook page. It's Facebook's Facebook page.

    See here:

    I had one for a while, but I got rid of it when I started getting "friend" requests from people I'd never met, and from students. There really isn't much that Facebook can do that the web page I learned html to program has been doing for 15 years now, assuming that I want it in the first place.

  6. I deleted my Facebook account two years ago when I started my first TT job. I did it for many reasons including I did not want current and former students to think we were friends at any level.

    You do not get to see pix of me, my family, and my friends. You are not privy to my jokes and rants. Conversely, I do not want to see your party pix. It really is a two way street.

    If you want to stay in touch with people, then write them an e-mail or drop them a postcard. You will be surprised how many people you actually give a shit about (hint: roughly 1% of your Facebook friends).

    Facebook is to relationships as Blackboard is to learning. A big waste of resources that creates nothing and leads nowhere.

  7. Tricky questions here, May. I second Froderick's notion about the possessive intricacies surrounding FB. If someone like them is hosting your stuff, they have a kind of power over you and in some cases are prone to abuse that power. It's a fight you/we cannot win.

    As far as the obligation to "always act in a way that students would approve of" goes--basically, the official, yes-man answer is "yes." When we teach, we have very public personas on and off campus. I'm sure some students prefer to look the other way when they see us off campus ("oh no, it's that b****"), but I also think some get a genuine kick out of seeing us with our hair down--it may be the same reaction they have to train-wreck behavior on reality TV. For that one moment (and your student who caught you unaware on FB had this moment), they get to play Big Brother, and yes, it does give them a teensy bit of power (actually in your case, a considerable bit of power if it was enough to get your dean to send that e-mail).

    It's right at that intersection of public and private off campus that I want to guard my privacy most fiercely. Luckily, I live about a half hour away from campus and rarely run into students, but it does happen. And I have modified my behavior to a certain degree--for example, I used to meet a friend once a year in a restaurant for an extended dinner with lots of wine and animated conversation. That is, until a colleague I did not know very well came over to our table to say hello when we were already in a, um, state of advanced inebriation. I'm not talking dancing on tables here or other truly scandalous stuff, but it was enough to convince me to hold little gatherings like this either at home or at a place very out of town--i.e. out of state because that could have been a student running into us at the same restaurant. Sad reality--we are very deserving of a private life, but if the administration doesn't approve of what we rightfully consider private, we're still screwed.

  8. I have a Facebook page, largely for my sideline business. However, my rule there is what it is all over the Internet: never post anything, EVEN HERE, that I would not want coming back to me under my real name. The Internet lives forever, peeps, like it or not. People do search for you. I do not use applications on FB, and I have nothing listed in my profile beyond the utterly obvious. Example: Interests: Yes, I have many. Favorite Books: Yes, I have them. Favorite Films: Yes, I have them. Marital Status: I have a status. And the like. My birthday is not correct, nor is any other potentially identifying information. And nobody save those already on FB (and often not then) gets mentioned by real name or gender.

    There are several excellent guides to maintaining one's online image. MakeUseOf has a good current FB guide, and Lifehacker periodically offers advice.

    As for students, I do feel your pain; I lived in a VERY small town where one did regularly run into students off campus. Now I'm in a large enough urban area that I rarely run into my adult students.

  9. If you MUST use Facebook, Marcia's got the simplest solution.

    But based on this experience, along with Merely Academic's, insisting that you won't change when clearly the product is not what you originally thought, is like signing up for Observational Astronomy and finding out it's not learning the constellations, pitching a fit that you're not going to drop, and then still just memorizing the names of constellations instead of learning what an arcsecond is.

  10. PS - why wouldn't they look you up on FB?

  11. Your a professor/instructor and or teacher. She is a student. There are different levels of responsiblity. Accept that.

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  13. In this case, I think the best solution is two FB pages: one that is personal only (and that doesn't belong to any school-related networks), and one that is professional. I have one colleague with a fairly common name who maintains two FB pages, one personal and one professional, under hir own name; another maintains a personal-only page under a variation on hir dead dog's name, so that students (and colleagues) can't find her.

  14. I enjoy my FB account, which is under my real name and on which I have accepted friend requests from a few former students. People without FB accounts are always warning me in darkly ominous tones about the danger of posting things on my account. These people are always righteous of tone when they tell me that they don't have a FB account and never will. Good for them. For reals. But I like mine.

    And yeah: Duh. You have to consider what you post there public. A dumbass colleague of mine got fired recently for disagreeing with an administrative decision on his FB page. Idiot.

    But on the whole, I've been impressed with what the people I am friends with put on their walls.

    There seems to be a generally-accepted rule that the status bar is for cheerful, funny, harmlessly mundane information. I enjoy getting a glimpse into the little details of my friends' lives that I would not have otherwise. We live far apart and are too busy for regular, substantive e-mail correspondence. And even if we did e-mail regularly, we wouldn't remember to mention the funny or touching little things that happened to us or our kids recently. I find that aspect of FB charming. If my current students found their way to my FB account, they would most likely find it unbearably boring.

    And if I want to bitch about work or the administration, or just curse up a storm and talk about my love of grain alcohol, I do it verbally, among people I can trust.

    It's all about context, but really, it's always been about context. You don't bitch about work on your work e-mail or within earshot of your boss, either. It's just common sense applied to a new format. You don't need to shut down your FB account, you just need to check what you say in a public place.

  15. I have two facebook accounts, neither one of which is in my real name. One is used for my unprofessional stalking and the other is a play on my name that only actual real-life friends would know.

    But the tone in this post reveals that Midwest May seriously thinks that personal information belongs to her. But it doesn't. May needs to take a reality check about both Facebook (run by asshats) and Google (run by slightly moral asshats but on the verge of selling all our information and creating a super fascist state).

    Personal time involves you, a cup of tea, and a friend. Everything online belongs to whoever wants to use that information.

  16. To maintain totaly privacy you'd have to delete your Facebook page. FB's purpose is not to ensure complete privacy for all its users but rather the opposite. For the same reason that you must assume all non-encrypted e-mail can be intercepted and read by anyone with an inclination to do so, you have to assume that anything on Facebook isn't private, no matter what your settings are.

    I know that's not going to be acceptable to most of you. Cassandra and AM's idea of having two Facebook profiles is one we have adopted in my office. Staff are expected to use their Facebook accounts to market the university and its programs. (Faculty are not obliged to do so, lucky for them). Unsurprisingly, my coworker was reprimanded for her 'unprofessional' attire in the photos of her out clubbing with her pals. This is a person who dresses professionally for work every day and is a competent and well-respected employee. And she was being scolded for her activities outside of work. I mean, yeah, she's a bit of a party girl, likes to go out and have a good time and dresses rather sexy, but why should it matter what she does on the weekends or after-hours?

    So if you have to use Facebook for you job, set up a dummy account with another e-mail address and use that one for your job-related interaction.

  17. I was going to get a Facebook page, but then I remembered I could actually have real friends and actually do things instead of squinting at the screen all night.

    Try it. It's not so bad.

  18. "who the fuck goes out and looks up their professors on FB anyway"

    Don't be surprised if they also google you, look you up on LinkedIn, search for you on your college/university website, follow you home, go through your garbage...

    Ok, the last two might just be me.


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