Social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter are breaking down barriers between teachers and students, redefining the way they communicate and interact with each other. Both current and former students ‘friend’ their teachers on such websites, which often contain a lot of information on the private lives of both parties. Some educators have found such sites to be an excellent tool to reach out to students who might otherwise have difficulty speaking out in class or asking for help. However, parent groups, school administrators, and legislators have become concerned that unsupervised online contacts might lead to inappropriate relationships between students and their teachers, and even sexual abuse. A slew of sexual relationships between students and teachers led the state of Missouri to pass a so-called ‘facebook law’ against student-teacher interactions through social media and text messaging. Citing free speech, the law was successfully challenged by teachers unions as unconstitutional.
According to Carol Shakeshaft an expert in sexual misconduct by teachers: “[e]ducators who use social media for personal and intimate conversations and contact are not much different from those who spend their time hanging out with students at the beach. You have to ask why a teacher would do this. The honest answer is that it rarely has anything to do with student learning.” Interacting with one’s teachers the same way as with one’s friends, sharing personal information, can only erode the respect and distance that a teacher needs in order to be an authority figure and a mentor for her young charges. Even if such ‘friendships’ were entirely innocent, they would still cast enough suspicion on the teacher-student relationship to put considerable strain on the teacher’s role as educator and their ability to do the job.
 Shakeshaft, Carol. “Using Social Media to Teach: Keep it Transparent, Open and Safe.” The New York Times. 19 December 2011. http://nytimes.com/schoolbook/2011/12/19/using-social-media-to-teach-kee...
This law assumes the worst of teachers and frames all teacher-student interaction in a negative way. Yet so many educators have found contact through social media to be a powerful tool in facilitating learning and expanding knowledge. It may be more appropriate to establish some guidelines for how to use such media safely and professionally, rather than banning their use altogether.
Social networking websites have proven to be particularly effective for child grooming by pedophiles. Teachers are already in a position of power and trust in the relationship with their students. Being allowed to communicate with students via facebook would greatly facilitate misconduct by a teacher who wants to start an inappropriate relationship with a student, by giving him virtually unlimited access to the students after school. In fact, many such relationships do involve some form of electronic contact1. By banning this form of communication, the law would make it harder for teachers with bad intentions to carry them through.
 Choo, Kim. “Online child grooming: a literature review on the misuse of social networking sites for grooming children for sexual offences” Australian Institute of Criminology. 2009. https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/publications/Abstract.aspx?id=250455
Child grooming, and having a sexual relationship with a minor are already criminal offences. If that doesn’t stop a potential predator, breaking the ‘facebook law’ in the process is unlikely to. A teacher who intends to abuse a child will still find ample opportunity to do so. This law takes a powerful educational tool from the hands of good teachers while doing very little to stop bad ones from acting inappropriately.
It is very difficult for a child to realize that he is being groomed; they are unlikely to know the risk1. After all, a teacher is regarded as a trusted adult. But, if the child is aware that private electronic contact between teachers and students is prohibited by law, the child will immediately know the teacher is doing something he is not supposed to if he initiates private electronic contact. This will therefore act as an effective warning sign to the child and might prompt the child to tell a parent or another adult about what is going on.
Even assuming the child already knows about the law and therefore that online contact with their teachers is not allowed, which will often not be the case, a child will trust the authority figure closest to him. The teacher can easily convince the child that the rule is not that important or that their relationship is an exception.
Access to a teacher’s private information and photos may lead to weakening her position as an educator. How can a teacher convincingly speak against smoking or substance abuse if students have access to pictures portraying the teacher themselves drinking or smoking? For example, a principal from the Bronx, who had been trying to impose a strict dress code at her school, was branded a ‘hypocrite’ by her students when a risqué photo of her was found on her facebook page. And even if the teacher will be careful not to post anything inappropriate on her page, a friend or acquaintance might thereby undermining the teacher. A strict separation of personal and professional life would prevent such incidents from happening.
 Preston, Jennifer. ”Rules to Stop Pupil and Teacher from Getting too Social Online”. The New York Times. 17 December 2011. nytimes.com/2011/12/18/business/.../rules-to-limit-how-teachers-and-students-interact-online.html.
 Keneally, Megan. ”Pupils at scandal hit school post sexy Facebook shot of principal over hallways.” The Daily Mail. 5 December 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2069559/Sharron-Smalls-chocolate...
Teachers should always be careful about what they post and how they portray themselves on the internet, whether they are friends with their students or not. Such pictures might surface even if students don’t have direct access to them. An educator should lead by example and someone who is of dubious moral character may not be the best-suited person to teach at a school in the first place.
Many teachers have been using social media as an extension of the classroom, some of them setting up discussion pages, or allowing students to contact them about homework or things that they did not understand in the classroom, it allows the teachers to provide extra help whenever the student needs it. This keeps students interested and makes learning fun by using a tool that they are already fond of. The enormous success of tools like ‘The Khan Academy’, which uses youtube videos to deliver lectures to kids, is proof of that. It also allows even those students who are too shy to speak out in class or ask for help, to participate3. Tools like facebook and twitter have the advantage of being ready-made platforms that lend themselves well to extending classroom discussions through groups, pages, pictures, and videos. Not all schools have access to the funding to set up such pages separately and not all teachers have the skills to create them. It would be a mistake for schools to dismiss their use and their value.
 Khan, Salman. ”Turning the Classroom Upside Down.” The Wall Street Journal. 9 April 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870410160457624871342074788...
Even if this were a great educational tool, some kids may not have access to it. Poverty or a parent’s life style choice might leave kids without access to a computer or the internet, preventing them from joining into such online discussions. This might make them feel more isolated from their peers and leave them behind in their work. The classroom is a space where everyone can be equal and have equal access to learning. The internet may not provide equal access and may hinder some students as a result. The use of such resources may also be to the detriment of other more traditional methods. For example the teacher may feel there is less need to explain homework if anyone who has difficulties while doing the homework can simply ask over the internet.
Under this law a random person who the student has never met, even a potential predator, would be allowed to send a message via facebook or twitter. And yet a teacher doing the same thing, regardless of the content of that message, would be instantly committing an offence. Every person is allowed to speak to and associate with whomever they choose. That is a fundamental right that the government is not allowed to take away. A person’s status as a teacher should not be an excuse to violate their rights.
 Solove, Daniel. “Missouri Bans Teachers from Friending Students on Social Networking Webistes.” The Huffington Post. 02 August 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-j-solove/missouri-ban-teachers-frie...
Speech can be restricted in order to protect the vulnerable groups, like children, from harm. Such a law does not attempt to keep educators from communicating or associating with their students. It merely insures such interactions happen in an appropriate manner and forum.
Social media has become the primary way in which children interact with their peers. These interactions are largely unsupervised by any adult, and yet they have a fundamental impact on the development of the children involved. Adolescents use social networking websites to gage peer opinion about themselves which may subsequently influence identity formation. With so much cyber bullying happening on such websites, and postings of inappropriate behaviour that may later surface to affect a student’s chances of getting into college or getting a job, it would be useful to have a teacher supervise these interactions to make sure no harm comes to the children involved.
 Pempek, Yermolayeva, and Calvert. ”College students social networking experiences on facebook.” Journal of Applied Developmental Pshychology. Vol. 30. 2009. http://cdmc.georgetown.edu/papers/facebook2009.pdf
This shift in the role of the teacher from educator to supervisor may actually negatively affect teachers. What if a teacher sees her students post pictures of themselves in inappropriate circumstances, drinking or smoking or scantily clad? What if she discovers cyber bullying? Does she have an obligation to intervene or contact the parents of the children involved? Might that do more harm than good? What if the teacher fails to act and a child gets hurt? Should the teacher be held professionally or legally responsible for that failure? Until clear guidelines are established on what exactly the responsibility of teachers would be in such a situation, the supervision of social media use by children should probably be left to parents rather than educators.
It would be difficult to find out whether a student and teacher have had contact over the internet. If a teacher were having a relationship with a student, and this law was in effect, both parties would try to conceal it from others and from the authorities. There is then a question about how the state would find out about such behaviour. Would the state be allowed to access private facebook accounts, personal computers, or internet service provider records to make sure teachers and students are not communicating with each other? That would constitute a serious intrusion and privacy violation.
The state wouldn’t need blanket access to teachers’ personal accounts. If suspicions arose that a teacher were breaking the law, as with all cyber-laws, the state could subpoena the information needed as proof. This law would work mainly as a deterrent for teachers to contact their students via social media. Knowing that they’d be committing an offence that could result in sanctions or losing their job, would be a strong disincentive against it.
Choo, Kim. “Online child grooming: a literature review on the misuse of social networking sites for grooming children for sexual offences” Australian Institute of Criminology. 2009. https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/publications/Abstract.aspx?id=250455
Keneally, Megan. ”Pupils at scandal hit school post sexy Facebook shot of principal over hallways.” The Daily Mail. 5 December 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2069559/Sharron-Smalls-chocolate...
Khan, Salman. ”Turning the Classroom Upside Down.” The Wall Street Journal. 9 April 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870410160457624871342074788...
Pempek, Yermolayeva, and Calvert. ”College students social networking experiences on facebook.” Journal of Applied Developmental Pshychology. Vol. 30. 2009. http://cdmc.georgetown.edu/papers/facebook2009.pdf
Preston, Jennifer. ”Rules to Stop Pupil and Teacher from Getting too Social Online”. The New York Times. 17 December 2011. nytimes.com/2011/12/18/business/.../rules-to-limit-how-teachers-and-students-interact-online.html.
Shakeshaft, Carol. “Using Social Media to Teach: Keep it Transparent, Open and Safe.” The New York Times. 19 December 2011. http://nytimes.com/schoolbook/2011/12/19/using-social-media-to-teach-kee...
Solove, Daniel. “Missouri Bans Teachers from Friending Students on Social Networking Webistes.” The Huffington Post. 02 August 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-j-solove/missouri-ban-teachers-frie...