Facebook or Not

14 Aug

After a long sabbatical from Facebook, I am venturing forth to be active on Facebook.  The reasons for my respite were varied, but had mostly to do with some bad experiences with students using Facebook to solve (and create) interpersonal problems and the lack of boundaries.  When I ceased to be present on Facebook, I had better success in getting students to talk face to face.

While I do value Facebook to connect with old friends and colleagues, I struggle with Facebook as a tool for campus ministry.  Facebook provides wonderful opportunities to communicate and understand the lives of students, but I learn too much about their personal lives.  To explore student Facebook pages often leaves me feeling like a “peeping Tom.”   In my years of campus ministry I have always felt that I know too much about student’s personal life and Facebook accelerates on first viewing what use to take weeks to acquire.    There are several pastoral care issues and professional boundary matters that need to be concerned.

Olympic athletes who were promptly expelled from competing for their social media transgressions serve as another reminder of tragic consequences for unfiltered and hastily written comments.  It is not only young adults to fall victim to these problems, but all of us can succumb to rash comment which lacked reflection.

An unfruitful search on the internet for ethical guidelines for use of social media for campus ministers, led me to look into other areas.  So borrowing from several guidelines for college professors, I offer the following for your consideration and discussion:

  1. Accept student friend requests consistently.  Simply accept all requests from students or accept none.
  2. Never send a friend request to a student still enrolled at your institution.
  3. Do not comment on student’s photos, especially embarrassing ones.
  4. Do not poke students.  No one likes to be poked.  It is annoying and awkward.
  5. Be friendly and encouraging when student share links with you.
  6. Do not login when you are upset.  This is prime time for venting and a hasty comment which can be your undoing.
  7. Do not use your students’ profiles against them.
  8. Be careful not to post anything you wouldn’t share with your students in person.
  9. Find out where you’ve been tagged.  You can find out if you have been tagged or added to photos and videos.  Untag yourself from anything offensive or unprofessional.
  10. Avoid the time suck.  You can’t say anything to students for being on Facebook instead of studying if you’re doing the same thing.

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Bill Campbell is the United Methodist campus minister at the Wesley Foundation at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN.   He has hung around the college campus for many years hoping some youth

would rub off and somebody, out of sympathy, would throw a degree his way.   When the weather is nice Bill can be found driving around with the top down on his Miata, teaching his daughter Eryn to drive a stick shift.  Other times, his wife Trinace, has him working on projects around the house,  while his son-in-law, John, patiently teaches him to fly fish.   Bill received a B.S. in Social Work & Psychology from Lambuth University, and a Master of Theology from Southern Methodist University.  A D.Min from Wesley Theological Seminary awaits a project (when it is finally safe to write) on General Conference and campus ministry.

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3 Responses to “Facebook or Not”

  1. Taryn August 14, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    Recently I watched a facebook conversation at a local church go off the rails. The pastor posted something slightly controversial, then the congregation weighed in — agreeing and disagreeing with each other in ways we are not likely to speak to one another face to face. Given the size of the congregation, they might not even have known each other. What’d I learn? I think Facebook has its limits. I was already skittish about trying to generate discussion online. I’ll stick to information, photos, an occasional quote. While conversation should flow freely in our churches, we aren’t debating societies, and I’m afraid the culture of facebook is just that.

  2. Dee Baker August 21, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    Good to see you here, Bill and I apprecaite the guidelines you’re putting out here. blessing this season. Dee

  3. Dana Sutton August 21, 2012 at 8:12 am #

    I appreciated Bill’s comments, particularly the sense that we may “learn too much” about the personal lives of our students. I have sometimes wished that a student hadn’t posted a certain comment or photo, or at least that I hadn’t seen it! Having said that, though, I’ve also had opportunity to reach out to students whom I might not have known were struggling, had I not seen comments on Facebook. So I continue, like others, to wrestle with what “online community” and “social networking” really mean for our culture, and especially for people of faith.

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