Opinion Brief

Should student-teacher Facebook friendships be banned?

Under a new Missouri law, instructors won't be allowed to chat with students over social-media networks. Like?

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has signed into law a bill that prohibits social networking between teachers and students. As part of the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, named after a student who was molested by her teacher decades ago, personal relationships between teachers and pupils over social-networking sites will be illegal. (Teachers will still be allowed to set up public Facebook pages for class use.) Is this a reasonable law, given the age that we live in, or a government overreach that assumes teachers can't be trusted?

This is smart thinking, but enforcement is an issue: "Teachers and students usually shouldn't be friends, anyway, so on the surface this sounds like a good idea," says Charlie White at Mashable. Still, I have to wonder how this law will be policed and enforced without violating anyone's constitutional right to privacy. Will the state be able to access personal computers and social networking accounts to monitor teachers and students? Those in inappropriate relationships will likely be discreet, making such affairs hard to detect. "Missouri forbids teachers and students to be Facebook friends"

This is ridiculous: This law seems to be "accusing all teachers of some sort of blanket guilt," as if they're all bound to slip into an inappropriate relationship eventually, says Casey Chan at Gizmodo. Besides, "it's pretty silly" to think that blocking social-networking relationships will do much to prevent creepy teachers from making "nasty messes," when teachers and students see each other on a daily basis. Add this to the long, crazy list of things that are banned in Missouri — owning a PVC pipe and having oral sex, to name two."Missouri has banned teachers from being Facebook friends with students"

And student-teacher Facebook friendships can be positive: This move could very well prevent some students "from confiding in a trusted adult friend who might be able to help them get through serious problems," says Randy Turner, a Missouri middle school teacher, as quoted at PC Mag. Students who lost their homes in the Joplin tornado or have an inappropriate relationship with someone else in their lives might contact a teacher on Facebook for some extra, much needed support. Now, they'll no longer be able to. "Missouri bans student-teacher Facebook friendships"

But it might be for the best: "Let's be honest, social media is a liability," says Josh Wolford at WebProNews. "Maintaining a respectable image is incredibly important as a teacher," and doing so on Facebook can be a challenge. Even when sexual misconduct isn't an issue, "does a teacher really want Tuesday morning's classroom discussion to be dominated by Monday night's relationship status change from 'engaged' to 'single'?" Why let students know, even inadvertently, that she graded their papers while battling a grueling hangover? On the flip side, do students really want their teacher to know what they were doing all weekend when they were supposed to be studying? I think not."Should teachers and students be friends on Facebook?"

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