Sunday, March 27, 2011

The World's Simplest Social Media Policy

I often share my disappointment around the fear of using social media for learning and connecting in posts like this one Kids and teachers are interacting. Everybody panic. Social media is ubiquitous in the lives of our students and it makes sense to go to where the students are. I shared this in my post where students explain 10 Ways Facebook Strengthens the Student-Teacher Connection. In that article you'll also hear from librarian Michelle Luhtala who helped break the ban on social media in her school. A video included in the article shows what happens when students are given the trust and freedom to learn using Facebook.  This is working in elementary schools as well which I shared in 8 Real Ways Facebook Enriched Ms. Shoening's First Grade Class. 

The reality is the power of social media is enormous.  It's what students are using to make a difference, our president used to get elected, and what Egypt used to start a revolution.  Educators must get over their fears lest they make themselves irrelevant and leave their students unprepared.  As I shared in my post Being Safe Online Is Being Safe In Life, the lesson is this.  It's not primarily having a social networking profile, or giving out  personal information that puts kids at risk. What puts kids in danger is being willing to talk about sex online with strangers or having a pattern of multiple risky activities on the web like going to sex sites and chat rooms, meeting lots of people there, kind of behaving in what we call like an internet daredevil. As the post is titled, the rules for being safe online are really just the rules for being safe in life. 

We don't need a complicated policy that runs on for pages that no one can understand.  What we do need is a common sense policy like the one shared by Mike Brown on the Nate Riggs Social Business Strategies blog.  The policy was made for business and works for education as well.  The policy was written for social media, but also applies to face-to-face.  Here it is with some slight schooly revisions from me.

“Will what you’re about to share offend, surprise, or shock your current or future
  • Classmates 
  • Teacher 
  • Friends
  • Boyfriend/girlfriend 
  • Family
  • Parents
  • Employer
  • Clients
  • Business partners
in a way which critically jeopardizes your relationship? If you answer even one “Yes” for this short list of people, think long and hard before publishing your content.”

Now isn't that easy?  A smart guide for life online and off.  For the original post visit Mike Brown on The World’s Simplest Social Media Policy.


  1. As educators, we must be aware that people are not born with the cognitive ability to predict how others will react to words, images, or behaviors. That ability develops over time, not appearing with any regularity before the teen years (and sometimes not then).

    What's more, even teens and adults who can anticipate reactions of those they know typically have less ability to anticipate the reactions of people they do not know or people who may belong to demographic groups with whom the are unfamiliar. Thus a 14-year-old is going to have trouble seeing that his post may offend a potential employer when he seeks his first summer job.

    I am not knocking the policy statement or social media use in schools. I am simply saying that students may be unable to apply it. Training in social media use will help somewhat, but it cannot compensate for immature cognitive development.

  2. Linda Aragoni, those are good points.I'd add, we learn from experience whether online or in face-to-face trying to act in a way that won't offend, surprise, or shock others known or unknown in a way that would jeopardize your relationship is a great goal. Sometimes folks slip up and from that, they learn and perhaps respond in a way to rectify the situation with an apology, clarity etc.

  3. When we are first breaking new ground we all have to learn, adjust, revise, hit road bumps, tweak policies, and work through the challenges. Social media poses challenges and threats, strenghts and weaknesses. As educators we need to be proactive and learn how to use the tools at hand for meaningful connections and teach students to do the same. If all we do is close social media access we never teach digital responsibility. I get so frustrated by the roadblocks. Instead of closing the doors, we should become knowledgable and to do that we must have leaders willing to learn those tools and reach out and help other educators and administrators. We must have policies and guidelines in place that are sensible and focused on consciously using the tools well within a school environment. We don't open the flood gates without have sensible AUP's and inservice focused on bringing everyone up to speed on best practice and what will be acceptable use and what will not.

    In order to empower learning you have to first make it possible to learn about innovative uses of social media. I like a balanced approach... not all or nothing. There are ways to accomplish this with the right content filter based on differntiated group policies.

    Jan Wee, Director-IT

  4. @Innovative Educator, This is a tough one. I think Linda makes a great point about kids not being able to how something might affect them negatively in the future. The problem with learning from experience in the online world is that once you put something out there, you can never be guaranteed to fully get rid of it. When you slip-up in a face-to-face situation, it's not going to be as far-reaching. Not that I think banning things or banning connections is the answer, but this is a concern.

  5. @Jan Wee, Well said! I would also add to focus not too much on the tool but the behavior which should be tool agnostic. Whether the tool is your mouth, you phone, your computer, or whatever, the same behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable.

  6. @Vickie, yes it is true that once you put something out there, it's out there, but I would argue it's the same in face-to-face. Once you bully, offend, hurt feelings, etc. you must figure out a way to own it or fix it.

    In the 21st century we all live in a time where we are very accountable for our actions. The difference between today and the past is more people can see our behaviors so it is incumbent upon each person to ensure those are behaviors which we stand behind.

    If it is true that in general kids can't make this determination, then no one will stand out for not doing so. However, having adults in the lives of students to help guide them, inform them, and consider consequences is helpful. I think the simple question in this post does just that.

  7. This is a most interesting, thought provoking post and dicussion! Thank you. Please read Vicki Davis' blog post in a related vein (Cool Cat Teacher - I posted the link on my own blog (All things ICT - too, because this is a fascinating topic for me.
    Social media is a reality and we just have to deal with it. How we do it, is the fascinating part!

  8. @ICT Integrator, so funny you mention Vicki Davis's post. I have read it and thought, geesh, that's like the most complex social media policy and it gets so confusing I think it will scare a lot of people off. I think Vicky is great and she always has terrific points, but it just gets too confusing for most.

    I think the one sentence policy I share above works well and some I know have a personal and professional page and that may work too.

    For me, I'm proud of who I am in my personal and professional life and I try to take care not to violate the policy mentioned here. Long ago I had two accounts for everything, but that just became too hard to manage. I like my colleagues and students to know a little more about me. It helps strengthen our connections and whether those connections are student-teacher, teacher-parent, colleague-colleague, strengthening our connections makes what we do more real, meaningful, and fun.

  9. Lisa, one of my principals is toying with the idea of using social networking tools to improve student attendance. What are you thoughts on this? More specifically, how would you social networking tools to improve student attendance?

  10. Great discussion on an important topic. Just wanted to point out something kind-a important... you need to read the Terms for each social media tool to see what the stated age limitations are. For Facebook a user has to be at least 13 so that would exclude elementary students (you used an example with them using FB). I find that it is common for teachers not to read terms before taking kids into online spaces. Technically even with parental consent, it raises an ethical question about ignoring the stated policy.

    I like your policy sentence though but as others have pointed out, kids don't necessarily get this. I know, I've raised 3 sons, two are in their twenties, and it took until they past grade 12 to care or consider some of those relationships...

    We advise teachers to use a separate id for Facebook if they wish to use it with their students - keep their personal FB life separate from their professional one. It's safer that way. There are many examples one can find of inappropriate relationships developing online between teachers and students so the ideal you describe isn't necessarily the most responsible for teachers or students.

    But, we do need to use these tools with students as they can be very useful, powerful tools for learning. Just be safe, careful, and legal...

  11. I agree with the idea that a social networking policy needs to be as simple as possible otherwise we are encouraging 'flexible ethics' - check At our school we have one rule for technology: "Make good decisions". We then have the tough job of teaching students how to do this!

  12. @Brian Kuhn, go check out the post I linked to re: the 1st grade teacher she was very meticulous, actually and the use of FB in elementary spread throughout her school, district, was covered by local news, national news and even CNN. You can find the post on my blog.

    That's right folks. Erin Schoening is helping students grow up with social media responsibility and because it's under the guidance of caring adults with parental involvement, I haven't heard of a single problem.

    Regarding your advice about policies, we must recognize that organizations make policies that make it easiest for them. Companies are run by people and like Erin Shoening, YES YOU CAN contact Facebook and get a waiver to use this or any tool under the guidance of an adult sponsor.

    My advice is not to blindly follow policies that weren't made with education in mind, but rather to contact the companies. Inform. Partner. Her story btw, which I wrote was featured on the FB in Ed page.

    What you and others explain about teens is just the personality of adolescents. It's how they are online and in life and they will exist and act in both places. Let's honor them for who/how they are and do our best to help them act as responsibly as we can.

    To me it's all about real examples, so when I know there's a first grade teacher who helped an elementary school, then district successfully use Facebook with her students and parents, I'm not convinced it's a problem.

    When I talk to students and educators in secondary school who have been very successful using Facebook as I shared in my post, I'm sorry, but I believe when it's integrated into the way folks do business, that takes care of many of the issues folks are afraid of and it helps prepare students for the real world.

    I'm fine with a separate account if an educator feels it is necessary. For me that would not be necessary. Chris Lehmann, principal of the school I mentioned in this post doesn't have a separate account either, but certainly if an educator is empowered (not told) to make the choice that is best for him or her, I have no problem with that.

    Whether in physical or online worlds we must ensure students are safe, careful, and legal. I suggest if we focus on that rather than the tool our students we be more prepared for life in a world where social media plays a very important role.

  13. Hi again - you make a good point about contacting companies for waivers. I will use that in our District - thanks!

    Your last comment about student safety, care, etc. whether in the physical or online world is key. But we do need to acknowledge that tools can amplify problems in different ways. IE, bullying using FB vs. on the school ground or child predators in the neighborhood vs. in a chat room, etc. Tools make a difference, mainly in how they amplify good or bad behavior.

    Thanks for engaging in the conversation.

  14. @Jacob Gutnicki, my initial thought is that is not what I would think of as a goal for Facebook. That scares me a bit. It sounds more punitive than supportive, even if that's not the intent.

    My thought is that Facebook should be used to strengthen the home-school connection, the student-teacher connection, and support the ability to communicate, collaborate, and make a difference.

    My thought is that if the student - teacher connection was strengthened online and in life attendance might increase. For instance the students I spoke to in the article mentioned in my post loved they connected with educators on Facebook, but their teachers also ran marathons with them, coached basketball, led debate teams, etc. Every teacher did something and the kids loved that their teachers saw them as people. I think in the end that is what increases attendance.

    But...I did tweet the question out and I'll let you know what I find.

    What are your thoughts?

  15. @Brian Kuhn, I’m glad you’ll contact the companies. Who’d thunk a first grade teacher could move a behemoth like FB to adjust their policy…but she could and she did.

    Re: my comment about safety, care, etc. if you look at my post and the research I sited about safety in that post we have misconceptions about online safety. What makes students unsafe is engaging in unsafe behavior online or offline. Again, the behavior, not the tool. Students engaging in unsafe behavior are unsafe regardless of the medium. Most of the time, the only difference online is it’s documented and people get caught.

    Furthermore the #1 perpetrators of maltreatment of children are parents in 81% of cases, not an unknown boogie man. Kids in the 21st century are pretty good at figuring out creeps online and know how to block etc. If we really were so concerned about child safety, we would stop blocking and banning and start looking at what’s right in front of our faces and make policies about that. Respect and being appropriate in life carries on to the online world.

  16. At our house, we always have had only two rules for our three children: 1) Be nice, & 2) Be safe. Our kids don't always know how to apply those in novel situations but the simplicity has served us extremely well over the years. We haven't really found anything yet that doesn't fit one of these two. Our discussions about these and how they apply to our behavior, others' expectations, the world at large, etc. are where the learning occurs...

  17. Thanks Lisa. It is a tough question as it can easily turn punitive. I agree with strengthening the home-school connection. I have also seen schools use it effectively to promote school events/accomplishments.

  18. @Jacob Gutnicki, my Tweeps had great ideas. Stay-tuned for a post with them tomorrow. I think the ideas work, as long as we don't turn Facebook into a "gotcha," because they'll just go and instead a caring environment where there is true concern.

    BTW, if you look at my post re: 10 reasons students like Facebook mentioned in this post, you'll see that when students are absent teachers/peers will post the work from each class for them and they were also able to mobilize on snow days. Which brings us to an important point of seat time what we're really interested in or a tool that helps students gain understanding and mastery?

  19. @Scott McLeod, Be nice. Be safe. That's a great policy too. I remember years ago I had a teacher who said all writing should create good will. At first I tried to argue that wasn't true, but I realize those too are simple words to live by.

    The issue of safety is always important and should be a consideration at every age.

  20. I read your post on safety - thanks for that - food for thought. You're influencing my thinking on this.

    Curious though, in your reply to me you give the impression that you think behavior is somehow neutral within the medium. IE, bullying on the playground and bullying online are somehow equal. I agree the behavior is but I think the viral nature of social tools changes the outcome. Example is how quickly an unwanted house party can break out when the parents are away or last year in the city I live a rave party and a rape of a 15 year old girl that was video'd by older kids with mobile phones and sexted and Facebooked around the world. Without the tools, it would have remained more localized. So, I agree behavior is behavior but technology enhances and transforms...

  21. How about social learning sites -- online sites that were designed to be used by K12 students and teachers for learning purposes?

    1. Video sites for K12:,,, ePals Student Media Gallery (
    2. IBvc -- the largest social learning network in the world, currently being deployed in 140 countries for nearly 1 million students plus teachers and alumni of the International Baccalaureate program. See and view a three-minute overview:
    3. ePals LearningSpace offers virtual workspace for K12 collaboration and communication with integrated web 2.0 tools. Teachers report that students are doing 10x more writing with LearningSpace tools, collaborating more with other students.
    4. Other companies who work in the education sector and understand issues of district-level tech deployment, FERPA and student records, age of consent, district AUP and other policies, etc. besides ePals include Gaggle, eChalk, edline, and others.

  22. @Brian Kuhn, I appreciate your sticking with this and pushing thinking on the topic.

    You share a story about horrible, inappropriate people doing horrible, inappropriate things. If someone wants to rape a girl and others want to video tape her and share that, it has nothing to do with social media. Sure it may be easier to spread it today, but, doing this has been possible for a long time in other ways. Additionally the tape from 20 years ago, can be shared today. The issue isn’t the spreading, but the doer and the spreader. When horrible, inappropriate people want to do horrible inappropriate things, they’ll find a way to do it with the tools available. I’m not sure what the point is behind you sharing that shitty people do shitty things. We know and we know that children are most likely to be maltreated by family. However, we wouldn’t think of banning family reunions, picnics or barbecues...Video and the internet have been around for a long time. Neither are going away.

    In the end I think simple policies make sense and our best bet is to focus on behavior we can inform rather than tools we can not.

  23. Thanks Lisa. I think you are right it cannot be a gotcha tool. The key would be to use it positively. Get the kids excited about their school.

  24. @blogger I’ve tried a lot of the “for ed” sites. I find the free, real-world tools work best for teachers and students and I think we have to push those companies to consider education much like Google and Wikispaces have. Here’s why I prefer this option. 1) they are free. 2) they are less glitchy 3) they are what students use in the world. 4) supporting students in using the tools in the real world is really what is in their best interest 5) I’m not counting on an ed vendor for FERPA compliance and I do believe that real world companies can, should, and are able to understand such issues.

  25. As a teacher who has students as "friends" on facebook, I've found it to be a valuable resource for all of the reasons already discussed, but especially for maintaining a connection with former students who have graduated from high school. They are able to easily reach me (I live in a different state now), ask questions and get advice on new academic and professional adventures in their lives, and share experiences they're having that remind them of things we learned in class together - it connects them to previous educational experiences and brings it all together. I'm also able to share resources with them that relate to and expand on those learning experiences - like little "booster" sessions. I also like that they are able to see that I'm the same person on Facebook as I am in the classroom - they know that I'm being genuine with them, and it encourages them to be genuine with me in return.

    Because of those positive experiences, I was disappointed when a State Office of Ed legal representative showed up to one of my graduate courses and essentially forbade us educators from ever being friends with a student on Facebook. People are so afraid of what could possibly happen that they ignore the precautions we can take to avoid the dangers. Point being, I think this blog post is doing valuable work in spreading the word that we don't need to be afraid of social media!

  26. Its a simple policy, but no where near an easy one. America has always been about ideals that say one thing and realities that show another. This fetishistic obsession with freedom, an advertisement for European settlers, has only resulted in anarchy. This lack of boundaries, of shame and conscience, is a result of incubating a contrived principle.

    You can't rely on an idea, or a policy, to govern in the 'real' world. This is ignoring human nature. We all make mistakes, push limits. Now we live in a very hard world that doesn't forgive or forget. We asked for this so called security. We programmed it. Our children live with the result. I'm just saying this because I don't think its worth taking too seriously any more rationalising on top of such a flimsy base.

    What I see most destructive about social media is the lack of narrative. The only linear thought is your own commentary, which is its popularity. Its all about you, but then we forget what it means to be disciplined and focused, and the result is solipsist minds without originality or imperative.

    Just unplug. Absolutely no discussion about this. Close the windows, the doors, turn off everything. And sit with your mind, quiet and alone.

    Afterwards, learning, collaboration, creativity, sense of propriety, all burst forth like an elastic. No need to make rules or sensor yourself because you just naturally talk sense with sensitivity for others.

    You know like Gandhi said to be the change you want to see in the world? Well we need to do something similar - create the environment we want to learn in, not walk into a hostile environment and expect to cope without having trained ourselves. Train the mind. Practice, again and again. When mind is trained why would you need rules?

    Impress this upon students, that they are responsible for their own minds. They will surely appreciate this.

  27. Given the various nuances and complexities that exist from tool to tool and space to space, the effort to address every possible issue is futile. These simple principles should guide our work and policies.

    A story I often tell is of a fire fighter who was talking to students about fire safety. He told the story of someone who tried to siphon gasoline from his mother's car. Not wanting to taste any gas as is the case to get the siphoning started, I thought using a vacuum cleaner would be a good idea. You know the ending. His point was you can never make a rule that says "don't siphon gasoline out of your mother's car with a vacuum cleaner".

    In the same way we're best to avoid the specifics, still with general principles of human kindness and interaction and deal with problems because they will still happen and a tighter policy isn't going to make it easier, just more difficult to enforce.

    Nice work as always Lisa.