The Ethics of Friending in Academia


In a column at The Chronicle of Higher Education,  David Perry discusses some of the complications for people in academic organizations using social media like Facebook. How should we engage with others on social media? Here are his suggestions:

[1] Be aware of workplace hierarchies and your position in them.
[2] You get to choose whether to “friend up” to people more powerful than you in the hierarchies.
[3] You do not get to choose whether to “friend down” to your subordinates. They get to make that choice.
[4] Either accept 100 percent of friend requests from subordinates or accept none. No middle ground.

Given that the academic workplace is, in important respects, not just your institution but also the profession at large, I am wondering whether people agree with these suggestions, or have in mind alterations or addendums to them.

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anonymous
anonymous
6 years ago

I strongly agree with all of these except (4). I think a lot of more senior people get friend requests from people just trying to “network”. I think that is annoying. But there is no reason that they shouldn’t accept friend requests from junior people they actually know or have the level of friendship with that they have with the rest of their fb friends. A lot of more senior than me people in the profession who I have never met have friend requested me and it really stresses me out!Report

Kristina
Kristina
6 years ago

3 I think is only a hard and fast rule between professors and students. I don’t think people should be friending their students at all, but I am ok with accepting requests from them. Apart from that it’s more of a grey area. Personally I’m not bothered by senior people friending me, but I understand why some might be if they normally use social networks for actual friends and not networking purposes.Report

Anca Gheaus
Anca Gheaus
6 years ago

They seem like perfect rules for entrenching hierarchy in academia – and the more hierarchic the better, no?Report

William Blattner
William Blattner
6 years ago

These are pretty good rules. They work well within an actual functioning department or university, where you will know subordinates off-line. This is important, for it’s reasonable to refuse to accept friend requests from those one does not know off-line. It’s also reasonable to draw a bright line somewhere, such as, “I’ll accept all friend requests from my graduate students, but not from undergraduates.” That’s a policy I have. I have one FB friend who’s a current undergraduate, but she’s a daughter of a colleague whom I’ve known since she was born.

I don’t think these rules reinforce hierarchy any more than anything else does. In fact, social media probably softens hierarchical tensions some.Report

Dale Miller
6 years ago

I think these rules are really only meant to apply between people who work for the same university/organization.Report

Anon Grad Student
Anon Grad Student
6 years ago

Do these rules privilege assertive graduate students? They would be more likely to ‘friend’ figures higher up, more confident in doing so. (And you might think that not only do we not want to favor the already assertive but also that there are correlations between assertiveness in this sense and groups already otherwise favored.)Report

David
David
6 years ago

I’m having a difficult time seeing why any of this is any issue, or why a philosophy professor would need a formal Facebook policy. Surely, it’s a better idea to decide each request on a case by case basis, taking your connection to the person into account. In any case, I don’t see any principled reason at all why I would, in general, deny the Facebook requests of my students. Perhaps if I regularly posted extremely offensive or sexually explicit content on Facebook, I would have a different view, but I doubt that’s the norm for the folks posting here. I also find the idea that such policies do not reinforce existing hierarchies, as W. Blattner suggests above, absurd, insofar as the only reason I can imagine for rejecting the Facebook requests of undergraduates is to make as clear as possible the hierarchically significant line between the professor and them.Report

William Blattner
William Blattner
6 years ago

Anon Grad Student’s worry (9:15 Wednesday) is quite real. I’m not sure what to do about it, other than not be FB friends with graduate students. I don’t want to do that, because there’s a lot of professionally relevant activity on FB. My students will post questions about teaching strategies, recommendations for reading, etc.

In reply to David at 12:25 on Wednesday: one may certainly operate on a case-by case basis, if one is comfortable doing that. I personally use the policy that I accept any FB request from one of my graduate students, since I don’t want to seem to be favoring some students over against others. I realize that there are other ways of looking at it, but this one is at least sensible.

As for the absurdity of my view – one caution: very view thought-out positions are absurd – I don’t think a FB firewall between me and my undergraduates increases the hierarchy that is very real on campus. One reason why I want to maintain a firewall between me and them is that they aren’t my friends, I have enormous power over them, and I don’t think sharing elements of our personal lives (except in so far as they’re pedagogically relevant) is wise. Again, there are other positions one may take on this issue, but I don’t think my view is absurd. In fact, I think it’s pretty sensible. A lot depends on how one uses FB, however. I have some professional colleagues who use it mainly as “advertising” for their professional activity. If that’s the case, then it’s harmless. I use it to share my daily life with friends. I use twitter for advertising and advocating.Report