Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

A Friend in Need

Naive netiquette question. I have a Facebook account, which I don’t use (I created it some months back for some specific reason I have now forgotten, but which didn’t involve an intention of using the account actively for the near future). I occasionally glance in to look at some of the discussions about my university, but have generally avoided learning much about the whole thing because, frankly, I have well and truly exceeded my personal quota of opportunities for online distraction for the foreseeable future. (I need something like a carbon trading scheme for units of online procrastination: disciplined people could fund their dissertations by trading their unused procrastination credits – they’d probably finish sooner and live more comfortably during their write-up – and so would the procrastinators!, having been appropriately incentivised to ration their procrastinatory impulses. Can everyone tell I’ve been sick and am still slightly delirious?)

At any rate, one consequence of not having paid any particular attention to Facebook is that I have no real idea of the internal norms and etiquette within the system. This morning, I got an email letting me know that a student has added me as a “friend”. Since I have hitherto remained friendless in Facebook, and am therefore actually reading the boilerplate text on notification mails, I noted with some amusement that Facebook: “need[s] you to confirm that you are, in fact, friends with [x].”

My question is this: is it normal for students to add faculty to their “friends”? Is it normal for faculty to confirm that they are, in fact, “friends”? I normally follow an expansive “when in Rome” policy on such things – in this case, though, I haven’t read the travel guide. Perhaps more Facebook-active folks can give me a sense of their experiences?

6 responses to “A Friend in Need

  1. A White Bear August 20, 2007 at 9:18 am

    I am “friends” on FB with several of my previous students. Mostly, FB serves as a nice way for students to stay in loose, unannoying contact with faculty members they liked, and I don’t think it’s meant as hostile or invasive. I have never gotten a request from a student with an offensive profile (incriminating photos, etc.), though. The term “friends” is a necessary evil; you don’t have to feel like you’re bound to one another as actual friends.

    On the other hand, if you want to keep a no-students policy, I don’t think anyone would be hurt by sending a FB message saying, “Hi, it’s nice to hear from you! I hope you’re well. I just wanted you to know that I don’t like to ‘friend’ students on FB so that students can feel free and unembarrassed about the way you use the site with your peers” or whatever. Does that make sense?

  2. N Pepperell August 20, 2007 at 9:47 am

    Hey there! Good to see you around!

    Makes perfect sense. I don’t have any particular aversion to students doing this – I basically just wanted to get a feel for whether there were tacit norms (or at least a sense of personal rules of thumb other people had used), before I dropped myself unintentionally into some awkward situation. ;-P

  3. SEK August 21, 2007 at 4:18 am

    You can also set your security settings such that undergraduates can’t see you. That way, only graduate students could befriend you…but that, in its own way, seems even weirder.

  4. N Pepperell August 21, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    LOL – yes, not sure about the subtext of that option… Admittedly, graduate students have not yet tried to befriend me. But this may be a simple case of net mimicking life… ;-P

  5. Joseph Kugelmass August 27, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    It’s a good idea to at least consider statutes of limitation. I had a student who befriended me via Facebook after our class finished. Later that year, I had to step in during an academic dispute involving another class (mine was the prerequisite), and had to de-friend her as part of that. There were no negative consequences, but it was awkward and I wished I’d waited longer.

  6. N Pepperell August 28, 2007 at 11:38 am

    Joe – Good point. I had a somewhat similar situation at one point (at a different institution, and not in relation to anything online) but just in the sense of thinking someone was an “ex” student, who then ended up needing my assistance as faculty… I love the term “defriending”, though 🙂

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