By Scott Sterling
Although educators are private citizens, they are also in the public eye (or, at least, the eyes of their students, parents, and administrators). With the growth of social media and its numerous platforms, it can be tricky for teachers to toe the line between responsible use and giving away too much information. Some platforms are great for professional development and promotion, others automatically come with a negative connotation. Above all else, follow your district’s social media policies.
Here’s how you navigate the minefield.
Google yourself regularly
The easiest way to see your online footprint is to do the first thing someone else would do – Google yourself. Try all variations of your name and common misspellings. Also try things that would normally be associated with you, like the college you attended. There may be some things out there that you had no idea about – innocuous or not. You may not have many options if you find something you don’t like, but at least you’ll know about it.
Always ask “Would I mind parents seeing this?”
The Internet is always growing and companies are constantly linking to each other to further their objectives. The only thing you can control is what you post yourself. So before you hit that button on any of your social account, you need to consider about what your “public” would think.
Lock down your Facebook account
You may be responsible with what you post on Facebook, but that doesn’t keep someone else from tagging you in an embarrassing picture or location. Thankfully, Facebook has some robust security settings.
The best defense is to make your Facebook profile iron-clad. Set it so only friends can see your information and pictures. You may want to go as far as to set up a test account to see what a stranger would be able to see from your real account. Also, think long and hard when a friend request comes in. Coworkers may not be a good idea.
Keep your Twitter professional
Twitter has become a great resource for professional development and networking among educators. It’s also has almost no security protocols and is a magnet for hate speech and unbecoming behavior. It should be your most professional-appearing social profile. Share things you wouldn’t mind your superintendent seeing. Contribute to the serious discourse. If you must converse unprofessionally, make a fake account that doesn’t use anything attributable to you.
… And your YouTube
YouTube is owned by Google, so out of all the social networking sites, it is the one that is most easily searched. Relevant YouTube videos are usually the first things that show up in a search. The site can be a valuable educational resource, but make sure that’s all it is. Even sanitize the videos you “like” and the channels to which you subscribe.
Think hard about the free dating sites
There have been a few instances of students finding their teachers on free dating sites like Tinder and OK Cupid, setting up a fake profile, and getting involved online with their teacher being none the wiser. This is called “catfishing”. Not only could it be embarrassing, but the interaction may cross the line into illegal territory. If you’re using online dating sites, make sure the barrier to entry is quite high for students – meaning that it costs serious money to join.
Use different handles for everything
If someone has the same handle for all of their social networking, it can be easy to trace the link from one to another. For example, if your squeaky clean Twitter handle is the same and the one you use to frequent forums that may be embarrassing, it’s not hard to run a Google search and put the two together. It’s annoying, but go by something different for every site that requires a handle.