Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Internet and Our Right to Privacy - CBS News Video

Here’s a link to a video from CBS New Sunday Morning, recounting (in part) a teacher’s battle after losing her job over pictures & links on her Facebook page.
NOTE:  At the time of this posting,  Galesburg CUSD #205 has neither a policy nor an inclination to monitor employees' social networking activities.  These are my personal opinions & suggestions to fellow educators, and do not reflect any official District policy - because none exists that I'm aware of.  To review official District policy on the matter, please review the Authorization for Staff Internet Access and Acceptable Use of the Internet - that form we all signed upon employment.  For other Districts, see your school's Acceptable Use Policy, or "AUP."

This woman’s unfortunate story teaches a difficult lesson about the lack of privacy on the Internet.  I’m neither condemning nor condoning the acts of either the teacher or the school district involved.  However, I would strongly encourage all teachers to become aware of this situation and take measures to protect their “online reputation.”
  • Consider creating TWO profiles (whether you use MySpace, Facebook, etc., etc.): one public and one private. 
  • Post very limited information on your public site – the ones that kids are more likely to find easily – and update it at regular intervals.  Heck, even use it as a way to enhance what you’re doing in class!  Post extra credit questions, homework reminders, etc.  Keep it professional.  Once kids & parents find your public site and see that you’re using it professionally, they’ll be somewhat less likely to dig any deeper.
  • Reserve your private information for your private site, and lock it down as tight as you can using the site’s privacy controls.  According to the story above, the teacher in question HAD locked her Facebook site down as much as she could, but her information was still found.  So…
  • Avoid linking the two sites together in any way.  Make sure you have different information on the two different sites.  Use different names (list your first name as “Mister” or “Miss” on your public site). List your school as your address on the public site – heck, it probably feels like you live there, anyway – and don’t list your occupation or place of employment on your private site. Your friends already know where you work, and random strangers don’t need to know.  Most teachers don’t want students dropping by their house or apartment on the weekends, so don’t make it any easier for kids to find your home.  Family connections, birthdays, etc., are for bulletin boards in your classroom, not the Internet.  They don’t call it “the World Wide Web” for nothing!
  • Avoid posting your birthdate and place of birth on either site!  Hackers can determine your Social Security numbers with a surprising degree of accuracy using just a few bits of information like these! (according to this article from Wired magazine, or this story from National Public Radio, as well as this article in the Washington Post.)
  • Avoid posting any photos or link to other sites which could paint you and your reputation as a professional educator in a negative light.  The same could be said for inflammatory opinions, complaints about your boss, etc.  How important is it, really, to share those photos, those ideas, those feelings, in a public forum?  Whether you’ve locked your site down or not, people can still find you, and you are still going to be held accountable for them. The dangers, in my opinion, usually far outweigh the value. And, of course, the obvious one…
Now, please understand: I think it’s a shame that our information society has come to this point, and I am a firm supporter of our First Amendment Freedoms.  But all the beliefs in the world, all the good intentions, and all the thoughts about the way things ought to be may end up being worthless if you don’t take a few simple precautions to protect yourself. 

The Internet and Our Right to Privacy - CBS News Video

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