Blog Post

Kinda Creepy on Facebook

Yesterday I finished posting a Facebook account, naming friends, hearing back from friends, writing quick notes to people I haven't talked to in years. It was lovely. Really lovely. None of the work stress of ordinary email. I may not be saying this a year from now, but, after one day in, I love my Facebook account. It was a fun day with pokes from old friends interspersed with various meetings during the day (I'm on research leave so I'm out of the meeting rhythm and Facebook kept the day light). But then I ran into the Facebookentry of a former student. She started it a few years ago, before she had any idea her profs wouldbe on Facebook. I looked away as soon as I saw that it was written performatively with other student eyes in mind, not performatively for a prof. A Facebook friend came my way and offered me membership in a group ("Faculty Ethics on Facebook") designing ethical rules for profs now using Facebook. Ding. Yes, I'd read various articles about this before Facebook went post-student, and yes, there's a privacy function one can turn on, but suddenly I felt implicated in this new interloping world. I felt kinda creepy . . . And woke up this morning with a vivid memory of the time Freddieand Warren wanted their dad to come visit our treefort. Mr. R had a black moustache as fine and dark as India ink. He played jazz trumpet a few steps below the "famous" level, as a session musician, third trumpet in a touring band with a notably strong brass section. He'd played with Miles. All that. Freddie and Warren didn't see their dad that often. But a parent in our fort? As with everything in our democracy of three, we voted on this issue. We never knew how our votes would end up but we always abided by them. We were about five years apart in age, Warren the oldest, me the youngest, and sometimes the vote split by age (little kids against big one), gender, family, or other preferences. The vote was 2 to 1 against allowing a grown up into the fort. I think Freddie and Warren must have assumed I'd vote in favor (they teased me a lot about my crush on their dad) so one of them must have filed the negative assuming I would take the fall. There was a long silence when it turned out that two negative votes had been cast. Our votes were absolutely, sacredly secret so I don't know which son voted to keep out his dad, to preserve our treefort as a parent-free space. I enjoy being in Facebook now, but it makes me mad that the students on Facebook weren't given the chance to vote on whether their space should be kept grownup free.


[Image is courtesy of Flickr, with thanks for the Creative Commons licensing to Lori


7 comments From Patty here comes a link to an excellent blog series on the whole faculty on Facebook and what they do there issue.


That's a very helpful set of guidelines, Cathy. Thanks very much for posting them.

The culture at my school seems to welcome professors into Facebook. Students communicate with me there pretty regularly, inviting me to campus events, writing on my wall when they see we share musical tastes, and so forth. I occasionally cringe at some of the stuff on their profiles, but I figure it's their business, not mine. I'm not sure what I'd do if I thought someone was exhibiting threatening behavior. That's a tough call. Given the extremely social and, for college students, localized presence of Facebook, I imagine the community would be alarmed pretty quickly.

My biggest Facebook complaint came today, when I was offered friendship by someone I'd never met who was trying to establish a business contact with me. I found that behavior out-of-bounds. Interesting.


Thanks for an interesting post, Cathy. I'm one of your colleagues at Duke, in the Religion Dept, though we have never met, and I occasionally comment on your blog in mine.

I'm interested by your Facebook experience, and I have had a similar one, and that odd feeling of being somewhere and seeing something I shouldn't have. I am curious about the ethical guidelines for profs. on Facebook -- that's something I'd like to see.

Best wishes,


I cut and pasted this from the Facebook group called "Faculty Ethics on Facebook." If you go to my entry, you can look at my Groups and click on this one and get to it and join. Best, Cathy
Faculty Ethics on Facebook
A discussion forum for Facebook participants to suggest activity guidelines for faculty.

Proposed guidelines include:

1. Keeping official course activities in other online tools.

Never requiring students to participate in Facebook or having Facebook
influence a course grade. An exception is for social research projects
that use Facebook and make their connection to a course explicit.

3. Not friending students unless they request the connection.

4. Accepting friend requests from all students (unless the instructor makes the decision not to friend students at all).

Not looking at student profiles unless the faculty member has been
friended by the student and even then using Facebook information
judiciously and for educational purposes.

6. Faculty members
should avoid association with groups with sexual content or political
views that might offend certain students or compromise the student to
teacher relationship.

7. Taking extreme care with privacy
settings and faculty profile content to limit profiles to information
relevant to educational purposes. A broad variety of information may be
appropriate, however, given the area of expertise / subject, the local
customs of an instructor's school, and the dynamics of his or her
classroom. Content should be placed thoughtfully and periodically
reconsidered to maintain this educational standard.

Exercising appropriate discretion when using Facebook for personal
communications (with friends, colleagues, other students, etc.) with
the knowledge that faculty behavior on Facebook may be used as a model
by our students.


One good thing is that Facebook allows for a privacy feature. So, students can block or show limited profiles.

As a grad student, I


The odd thing about treehouses and Facebook is that people grow up ...
to be their parents. The Facebook cohort is rapidly aging. In many
instances they are the grownups that they once kept out, and they are
becoming the teachers who live their lives within the Facebook
narrative conventions.

The site grew up because it was growing up, and you were invited in.

- Tyler


Hi, Tyler, I guess I don't like the determinism of thinking people grow up to be their parents. My fear/hope/prediction is that young people will build a new treefort with rules that keep out the grownups. Personally, I hope they do. It makes me sad how much we police kids. The site grew up, which means that kids will move on to someplace where they won't have to wear their "school clothes" all the time. That's my guess. In the meantime, I'm loving meeting my old pals on Facebook. Who knows, Freddie and Warren may even show up.