Whether your school or district has officially adopted social media or not, conversations are happening in and around your school on everything from Facebook to Snapchat. Schools must reckon with this reality and commit to supporting thoughtful and critical social media use among students, teachers and administrators. If not, schools and classrooms risk everything from digital distraction to privacy violations.
Key Elements to Include in a Social Media Policy
Create parent opt-out forms that specifically address social media use.Avoid blanket opt-outs that generalize all technology or obfuscate how specific social media platforms will be used. (See this example by the World Privacy Forum as a starting point.)
Use these opt-out forms as a way to have more substantive conversations with parents about what you’re doing and why.
Describe what platforms are being used, where, when and how.
Avoid making the consequences of opt-out selections punitive (e.g., student participation in sports, theater, yearbook, etc.).
Restrict location sharing: Train teachers and students on how to turn off geolocation features/location services on devices as well as in specific apps.
Minimize information shared in teacher’s social media profiles: Advise teachers to list only grade level and subject in their public profiles and not to include specific school or district information.
Make social media use transparent to students: Have teachers explain their social media plan, and find out how students feel about it.
Most important: As with any technology, attach social media use to clearly articulated goals for student learning. Emphasize in your guidelines that teachers should audit any potential use of social media in terms of student-centered pedagogy: (1) Does it forward student learning in a way impossible through other means? and (2) Is using social media in my best interests or in my students’?
Moving from Policy to Practice.
Social media policies, like policies in general, are meant to mitigate the risk and liability of institutions rather than guide and support sound pedagogy and student learning. They serve a valuable purpose, but not one that impacts classrooms. So how do we make these policies more relevant to classrooms?
First, it forces policy to get distilled into what impacts classroom instruction and administration. Second, social media changes monthly, and it’s much easier to update a faculty handbook than a policy document. Third, it allows you to align social media issues with other aspects of teaching (assessment, parent communication, etc.) versus separating it out in its own section.
4. Most important: As with any technology, attach social media use to clearly articulated goals for student learning
Moving from Policy to Practice
Social media isn’t a novel phenomenon requiring separate attention. Ed tech, and the tech world in general, wants to tout every new development as a revolution. Most, however, are an iteration. While we get caught up re-inventing everything to wrestle with a perceived social media sea change, our students see it simply as a part of school life.
The top ten priorities for strong and effective social media policies should be:
explaining the risks that can arise through the use of social media and the reasons why having a policy is necessary;
clarifying the permitted uses of social media during work hours and/or using the employer’s resources. This will include when employees are allowed to access social media at work (if at all), when such access is permitted – for example, during an employee’s lunch hour or while the employee is on a break, or at any time – and what will be considered to be excessive use;
confirming that the policy applies in respect of social media use by an employee outside of work hours where that use impacts on the employer or the workplace, including by an employee publishing comments which are referable (whether directly or indirectly) to the employer, its products, other employees, customers, partners, suppliers or competitors;
clarifying prohibited uses of social media, such as an employee engaging in online conduct which may constitute unlawful discrimination, defamation, bullying or harassment. There needs to be careful consideration of how this part of the policy links to an employer’s other existing policies covering those issues. Consideration can also be given to requiring employees to inform their employer when they become aware of any potential breach of the policy by another employee – unlike in other jurisdictions, this concept of “dobbing in” a colleague can be difficult to promote in Australian workplaces;
confirming that social media use must be consistent with an employee’s obligations to comply with all applicable laws, including to not make any comment that may be misleading or deceptive in trade or commerce (in breach of Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)), and to not disclose any market sensitive information prior to disclosure by the employer (in breach of insider trading laws);
reminding employees of their obligations in respect of the employer’s confidential information and intellectual property, and privacy, copyright and plagiarism issues more generally;
where an employee is subject to a workplace investigation, in addition to requiring an employee to generally assist with that investigation, specifically directing an employee to preserve and not delete relevant social media content, and to provide their employer with reasonable access to that content for the purposes of the investigation;
specifically providing the employer the ability to direct an employee to remove or delete prohibited content;
expressly stating that breach of the policy may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment; and
directing an employee on how they can notify their online connections of their departure from their employer and their acceptance of a new role, and confirming that the inappropriate use of those social media connections can constitute a breach of any post-termination restrictions on soliciting clients.
Need Sample Social Media Policies? Here Are 7 to Inspire Yours
Research shows that a majority of employees are willing to share company information—they’re just not sure what to share because they don’t want to get in trouble.
A constructive company-wide social media policy will answer questions and encourage employees to add support on social media whenever possible.