I had an eye-opening discovery this week. One of our principals contacted me about an e-mail she was expecting that hadn’t arrived. I went into our district spam filter to see if it had been caught there. While looking for the e-mail, I noticed a lot of traffic from Facebook that had gotten caught in the filter.
At first I thought the Facebook traffic was just generic spam, but decided to click on one to make sure. Imagine my surprise as I found myself looking at a personal message between two of our teachers about a date they had gone on. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the message itself, but I’m sure these folks would be appalled to know that I had been privy to such personal correspondence.
The problem was that one of the teachers had used her district e-mail account to sign up for Facebook. The default setting for Facebook is to send e-mail notification for any wall posts, comments, or private messages. All of this traffic was coming into our system and subsequently being caught in our spam filter. I’m sure this teacher didn’t think anything like this would happen, and if she were not getting the e-mails, she would have been unaware of the problem.
Even though the message supposedly was sent within the confines of Facebook, it still wound up on our system. At that point it becomes property of the district, and could be discoverable by subpoena or FOIA request. We currently don’t use an e-mail archiving system, but that’s probably going to happen before too long. When that happens we (my IT staff and administrators) will have even more access to personal messages, whether we want it or not.
I’ve heard some instructional technology gurus call for greater interaction between students, teachers, and parents on social networking sites such as Facebook. I don’t think that’s such a great idea. I think there needs to some clear boundaries between the personal and the professional, and that’s just not easy to do on Facebook. I guess one could create a “teacher” account separate from their personal account, but that can get to be a bother. My friend John Woodring suggests using a Fan Page. I still think it’s best just to keep the two separate.
Facebook isn’t the only problem, though. A teacher that signs up for any other service with a district account will have e-mails coming back from that service. This could include banking, or any other service that might include personal information.
Starting this fall we’re going to begin insisting that teachers use a personal account for all social networking systems and non-school related services, and to reserve their district account for professional use only. We have tried to make this standard practice, anyway, and have used the phrase “incidental personal use” for what is allowable. We’re doing this to protect the teacher, as much as anything. That way my tech staff doesn’t have to read any personal Facebook soap operas as they find their way into our e-mail system.