In 2011 Twitter and Facebook changed the world - allegedly. The Arab Spring, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, falling dictators, celebrities dying, riots in British cities, the Eurozone crisis and the Royal Wedding were all reported, followed and commented on in real time. Millions of people engage in social media and networking on a daily basis constantly circulating and adding to the wealth of information that exists. It is seen as an essential part of the connected age and in education promoted as a 'must have' to engage with students / customers. Do any Universities or Colleges not have a Facebook page or a Twitter stream or a YouTube channel? Marketing information for recruitment and enrolment, up to date information on events, enterprise opportunities and business, student support and guidance, teaching and learning, library information are all seen as essential and opportunities not to be missed. If you want to successfully gain employment it is important to have an online profile to promote your worth - will you be googled before an interview?
Yet teachers and others working in education are 'warned' not to have Facebook and Twitter accounts and social media policies aimed at staff abound with conditions of usage outlined and monitored. There are countless stories reported with varying accuracy of inappropriate communication between young people and people in positions of authority, there are incredulous tales of people posting photos online and then wondering why they are discovered and circulated to the world. The obvious remedy to this part of the issue is that you shouldn't post anything online that you wouldn't want anyone and everyone to see - it's simple. Again last week I heard someone, in the education field, say that they keep their personal and professional online identity i.e. on Facebook totally separate because of the risks, as if that was the only answer.
The time factor is also a consideration hours can be spent on Twitter and Facebook rather than doing other work - do you need to build up a PLN online? We already have far too much information out there - is it your moral responsibility not to create anymore?
So there is the modern dilemma particularly in education - should you use social media?
Personally I think it is a very thin line, held in the balance and just coming down in favour of yes.
But it is too powerful to be a fool about - gone are the days of leaping in and saying what you want, to who you want without danger of repercussions. When I first started using Twitter in 2008 it was very different to what it is now, it was a lot more casual and naive - but if it is going to change the world it can't be used casually or without some protocols. If you want governments to take notice (nothing like lots of irate do-gooding twitterers to start a campaign) you can't in the next tweet expect to make dangerous remarks and hope they will be seen as a joke.
Think about your profile and identity - tell the truth, I don't agree with false accounts but don't tell people everything. Assume that whatever you post online anywhere at all is going to be read by anyone. You have no control of that information once it is uploaded and you can't get it back. You don't have to keep your identities separate online - I agree that you shouldn't be friends with students that you teach but there is nothing wrong with communicating with them in the same way as you would in the street on a Saturday while shopping. You would just say 'hello', you wouldn't show them your holiday pics or ask them for a drink.
Facebook and Twitter are not going to go away - well, they might in their current format but will evolve into other mobile social media applications. They reflect 'real life', the same sort of people as you find in society and you have to educate people to cope with them.
Social media is amazing and appealing - it is wonderful to be able to communicate and share - I use Facebook mostly for friends but also for people that I've met through work. I wouldn't be able to keep in touch with people otherwise and it's been brilliant for tracking down old school and uni friends.
Twitter is constantly interesting - you can find out anything and everything - I've learnt loads about education, e-Learning, technology, books, libraries, gadgets, places. There are some brilliant people and some boring people and a lot in between - there are many people I 'know' online who I wouldn't have the opportunity to have met otherwise. It works for me, for now.