In Gina Maranto and Matt Barton’s “Paradox and Promise: MySpace, Facebook, and the Sociopolitics of Social Networking in the Writing Classroom,” the authors thoughtfully outline and analyze both advantages and disadvantages of students and teachers friending each other on social media websites such as Facebook. Maranto and Barton acknowledge that “there are dangers for teachers who create their own profiles and add their students as ‘friends’.” Even still, they ultimately argue that “perhaps teachers and scholars should work to protect the integrity of these spaces.”
Surely, there are student/teacher relationships that could be inappropriate in the context of social media; teachers have been fired for posting inappropriate photos and statuses on Facebook and some schools explicitly prohibit teachers from friending their own students. On the contrary (and this has been my experience), being “friends” with a professor can be a great outlet for continuing classroom discussion.
What I find problematic, then, is the term “friending.” I began thinking about this after reading Maranto and Barton’s article and after some classmates in ENGL516 (Computers & Writing: Theory & Practice) pointed out that there is a huge difference between a student “following” a teacher on Twitter and “friending” them on Facebook. On Twitter, reciprocity is not necessary; the teacher does not necessarily have to follow the student in return, allowing for a unidirectional social network relationship outside of the classroom. On the other hand, Facebook friending inherently goes both ways; in accepting a friend request from a student, a reciprocal relationship is established.
So the concept alone is troubling, but the term “friending” is even moreso. Personally, I don’t think I’d consider any of my college professors to be personal friends. This isn’t to say that I don’t think some of them aren’t really awesome or that I don’t enjoy having conversations with them outside of academia, but for me, it’s just not possible to consider a teacher a friend; I’ve been going to Eastern for five years now and have gotten to know some of my professors pretty well. Many of them (especially at the graduate level) insist that their students call them by first name rather than Dr. So-and-so. I appreciate this. I respect this. But I have a really hard time doing it. Maybe I’m old-fashioned in that regard.
Still, I am Facebook “friends” with teachers. Of course, I filter my status updates and timeline posts…not because I necessarily have anything to hide, but because I believe there are certain things about my life that my teachers (and bosses, for that matter) don’t need to know about. Facebook does give users the option, after friending somebody, to categorize them by group: acquaintances, co-workers, whatever. But at the end of the day, users have to “friend” other users before they can categorize and, even then, I don’t think those categorizations are public. “Friendship,” however, is. I wonder if it would make a difference if the terminology was different, because there are too many connotations that go along with friendship. And to me, this can unnecessarily plague the way teacher/student relationships and interactions on social media websites are viewed.