Teach.com

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Should We Worry About Twitter Safety?

Surprise by Khayal on Flickr ccAs an educator I am always cognizant of perceptions by parents, school district personnel, and the local community. That runs the gamut from anything I might buy at the local liquor store to what web sites I go to on the school computers.

So, I am also very careful about social media and my interaction with students. I, literally, am friends with one student on Facebook from my current school and one student from a previous school. On Twitter I only follow one student and I have blocked all other students. Because I do have access, even as limited as it is, with students I am extra careful about what I post and what comments or links I interact with.

Many of you reading this will think I am overly worried. Those who know how conservative my school district is may be surprised I actually interact with any students on Facebook or Twitter. In fact, there are several of our teachers who have lots of interaction with their students, although we have (as a staff) witnessed what can happen when a parent becomes concerned with what is being said between a teacher and a student.

As an advocate of social media for teachers, especially Twitter, I was saddened to witness a friend of my wife's problems. It seems her Twitter stream was hijacked and replaced with a pornographic site. If you went to the original site you would get a message that the site was not found. This resulted in the real woman taking her site down. If, however, you went to the the new Twitter ID found in the original woman's twitter stream you would go to a site that looked just like the original site but all of the links and tweets were related to pornographic material.

Has this happened before? You bet. Had my wife or I witnessed it happening? Not at that time. And it really got our attention. I started to think about a teacher who might be using Twitter with students and suddenly the students are being offered an education in things most parents would not welcome.

Would these same parents be understanding? - "Oh, no problem. That happens." -OR- Would these parents crucify the teacher for "exposing our child to pornography?" Would the school administration be supportive? - "He is an outstanding teacher and we are sorry this happened. You can be sure that we will look into the matter and it will not happen again." -OR- Would the administration hang the teacher out to dry ?- "He was warned about using social media in the classroom."

Even though I am at the end of my second year on Twitter, I think that we are still too early in the life cycle of this site to be sure whether what happened that day is something to worry about. Still, I would hope one would not blindly jump into the stream and offer up Twitter interaction with students without, first, considering all of the possible scenarios. I would also hope that you would have a dialogue with your administration and staff so that every teacher is fully educated about the wonders (and the possible horrors) of using social media with your students. I know we had this discussion at our school.

I would also hope you are having ongoing discussions with your students about what they post and how their comments can come back to haunt them in future years.

Getting back to my original theme; no matter how good we are with improving the knowledge level of our teachers and students, that does not mean that your Twitter stream won't get hijacked.

At my school, at least, I feel confident that we will have the full support of our administration should any problem arise.