Saturday, May 01, 2010

The real perils of Facebook

The biggest problems with Facebook are not about the personal, embarassing, or inappropriate comments we professor/administrator types write in our updates or the pictures we post online. No, they are the moments when we show ourselves to be grumpy, politically correct adults who can't always turn off the teacher mode.

I just wrote my best friend's teenage son--let's call him Eric--a note on Facebook, suggesting to him that he might tell one of his male friends that his use of the word "rape" as a metaphor was inappropriate, especially in the context of sports (e.g., "The team got raped at regionals.").  Eric tried to explain to me that "nowadays, in sports, 'rape' means to be dominated." I explained that, while some people might want to use it that way, it really wasn't okay. I wrote about the many women and some men who I have known who have been raped, what a horrible crime it is, and how using the word that way made it seem less horrific and even somehow acceptable. Eric took it well--I had made a point of writing him privately and not in front of his friends, which he appreciated. But I haven't always been so thoughtful.

Indeed, a few weeks earlier, I gently chided another friend's pre-teen daughter on her FB page about her ugly comments about Spanish language TV and her Spanish-speaking maid. I also clarified for her that there was a difference between Spaniards and Spanish-speaking people. What a curmudgeon I have become.

I have had similar FB engagements with my twenty-something students about some of their discussions or offhand comments. I try not to, but sometimes it is hard to overlook and keep silent. I don't want to be the self-appointed hall monitor, but I hate to see an opportunity for discussion or learning pass by unchecked.

I started using Facebook as a recruitment tool related to my administrative role, so I friended current and prospective students. I have also agreed to friend my adult friends' children when they have asked, though I do not seek them out. These connections give me a lot of insights into the lives of young adults--for good or ill. I get to cheer them on, encourage them, and, it seems, occasionally question or correct them. I can't decide if I am now part of the global village raising these kids or just a meddling, uptight adult. Perhaps I am both.

That said, if Eric becomes one boy who doesn't use the word rape casually and discourages his young male friends from using the word that way, that isn't a bad thing. And I suppose these young people can always un-friend or block me... or I can hide or un-friend them and return to life with adult "friends." But I know I can't keep from commenting and addressing the more troubling comments I see. So, young people, friend me at your own risk!


Buy Dissertation Proposal said...

Whenever i see the post like your's i feel that there are still helpful people who share information for the help of others, it must be helpful for other's. thanx and good job.

The Bittersweet Girl said...

I never friend current students & don't have any young adult friends (on FB, I mean) so I've never encountered this kind of provocation. But, I think you are entirely right to not take these comments passively -- since the young people live most of their lives on a digital platform these days, you *must* engage them there, if anywhere.

Besides, they can always quietly "unfriend" you if they get their feelings hurt.

Virginia S. Wood, PsyD said...

a close friend's daughter mentions alcohol in every post. Really: Every single post. And her profile pic shows her giving the bird to the world. This while she is thinking of relocating and will be looking for another job!

I have struggled for weeks with whether to say something to her or not, and if yes, then what and how?

In the meantime, it's the adults I have the most trouble with. I can't tell you how many I've unfriended because their politics make me want to set my head on fire.

Don Heller said...

The "students as Fb friends" issue is a thorny one for faculty. The program in which I teach is strictly a graduate program, and most of the students are well into their 20s and older. So I think the situation is different than friending 18 year-olds.

Nevertheless, I still have a policy (which I post on my website at work) of not requesting to be friends on Fb with my students, so as not to put them in an uncomfortable position if they don't want it. But I do tell them that I will be happy to respond to a friend request from them.