I will be giving lectures for the first time this semester starting in 2 weeks (online due to covid), some students already started to add me and follow me on social media (LinkedIn mainly for now). I rarely use LinkedIn, and really %99 of the people there are people I know in real, collaborated with, from college etc. It is already a messy jungle. I see sometimes an overly passionate kid who made a request and I don't mind accepting their request, but I also want to be fair to all so I don't. I recently began to enjoy Twitter and although most of my followers are professionals I sneak in personal likes, comments, tweets and I enjoy it that way, but with students following I don't know if I will be able to 'act human' (which I wouldn't mind if I were already an experienced, confident, accomplished professor (those are the best of the people) but at this time I am not comfortable with it). Do you change your name to not be found easily (I want colleagues to find me though)? Do I go private? I post during workshops/conferences (which makes most of my new connects) and often like/comment on others as well. Do you accept their requests? Where is your line with social media?
I have tiers of social media and things I will and won't say on each platform.
LinkedIn: I will accept a connection from anyone I have a genuine professional relationship with. This includes students from my department who have taken my classes. I say no to people who I have no connection with, or I know socially. I don't really post anything on LinkedIn.
Twitter: I mostly use twitter for professional, and professional adjacent content. I don't vet who can follow me, or who can see my tweets, but people who know me socially are going to get bored of the academia talk pretty quick. I will follow students I have a significant relationship with: graduate students in my department who work on things in the same area as me, people I've co-authored papers with etc. I never say anything on twitter I wouldn't mind saying at the top of my voice in the middle of campus with my boss watching. I generally keep away from national/party politics, but do comment on academic politics (e.g. I post quite a lot of union content).
Facebook: I have my Facebook completely locked down so people who aren't my friends can't see anything. People on here are almost entirely non-professionally related to me — I don't even really have other academics from my department, who I would normally think of as friends. I'm much freer about what I say on Facebook.
On the first day of classes I tell the students that I don't want to be contacted by social media or by any means other than the school e-mail. The school also gives students a nice way to provide anonymized feedback, which no one has ever used so far.
If students send me friend requests on Facebook et al (which I don't really use), I delete the requests (it's happened a few times).
If students send me friend requests on LinkedIn anyway, I accept the requests after the end of the semester. (I can imagine a scenario where I might want to delete the request, but it hasn't happened yet.)
On at least 4 occasions I remember, former students messaged me via LinkedIn about recommendation letters for graduate school, advice regarding internships, etc. I don't know, maybe they don't have access to school e-mail anymore. I'm a little ambivalent, but so far nothing bad has happened.
I have no doubt that some students create class-related social media discussion groups. I also trust that if something happens that needs my attention (e.g. many people not understanding the material), they will contact me by school e-mail or make an appointment for office hours.
Years ago I used to accept student friend requests on the Facebook platform, but I came to regret doing that. At some point I stopped accepting student friend requests on social media.
Steven Krantz in How to Teach Mathematics makes the point that you need some amount of social distance from your students to hold their respect, and to not do that is a common mistake for younger/newer faculty. I've certainly walked that path myself. (U.S. system here, maybe that varies by institution and/or country.)
As far as social media goes, especially Twitter in your case, you should be very careful about who can see your activity. Particularly if you find yourself gravitating towards any type of "controversial" conservative political content, the stuff that you do on social media can be incredibly consequential as is evident by the University of British Columbia Board of Governor's Chair 'voluntary' resignation for liking a tweet from Donald Trump. Keep in mind, you might not gravitate to that material now, but Twitter has a way of dragging people into the fray.
You should always be aware of the fact that what you think is reasonable can be completely taken out of context and weaponized against you. Unless your contacts are people that you trust on a personal level, you should really practice keeping your social media network tight. I understand your want to 'act silly' on the internet, but you need to be aware that the enjoyment that you get out of 'acting silly' could be weaponized against you by your own students that view the world and your actions from a very different lens.
Besides, what do you get out of having students on your Twitter feed? If you want to maintain some type of social connectivity with students, particularly after classes, then LinkedIn might be the best bet given the professional themes around it. Ultimately, you need to weigh the benefits you get from your own social media activity with the real possibility that you could lose your career over something as juvenile as liking a tweet.
I think there is no general answer regarding all social media, but that the answer should depend on what you do on that particular site.
If you use LinkedIn for building a professional network only and do not post or like anything, than accepting students there seems perfectly fine. There may even be benefits for you (seeing what graduates become or leading to direct contacts to companies). If you use an account (like Facebook or Twitter) for private stuff, you probably shouldn't accept invitations from students. Also you need to be aware that some platforms are asymmetric in the way that people can see what you are posting without your need to allow that. Using such a site and actively blocking students can be a hassle (and may look strange).
Finally, there are "social media" channels that can be temporary and partly anonymous (e.g. I created a channel in a chat app dedicated to a specific course and students are invited with a link but can choose to be anonymous or not - apart from that channel, no information about accounts is exchanged). I do not see any problems with that.
I get LinkedIn requests constantly from current and former students. I ignore them unless I have significant additional contact with the student outside of the classroom, such as if they work for me as a research assistant.
No one ever asks why I didn't add them and, to my knowledge, no one has ever taken offense.
We created our own in-house social media that is under our control to solve this exact problem. We created our own Discord server with channels for specific courses and some general, fun and support channels. The students come in with their own discord IDs but have to supply the administrator with their student ID to unlock access. So for the teaching staff they can be de-anonymised and poor behaviour dealt with.
This leaves any out-of-work social media out of the equation as it attenuates the need to link up with other media and also give us control over the messages and deal with "shit storms".
We have separate mechanisms for "in-class" chat which takes place in MS Teams, Canvas VLE and other tools. Students now have more channels than they can ever need!
This of course is a departmental approach that may not work for individual academics.
Coming from a current student and grower-upper of this new era of information, once a three-letter agency employee, who has done very personal tutoring, coaching, etc- I strictly keep a social media account (a pseudonym so to speak) separate from my real life identity. I hardly use social media with my own name. It may come from a lack of written qualifications yet (working on it) and my rather contrarian writing, but social media is not a good place to use your real identity unless it is strictly for friends and family unrelated to work or school.
I will often, even just in the process of citing works, look for the author's social media accounts. I like to get an idea of whether I feel I have, if I disagree with them or find their work too easily criticized, tinted them poorly when perhaps they have changed their mind, seem to be in a different state of mind now, etc. Be aware that if not protected (which I will also explain below) they can find everything you have ever posted, done, or liked. There's no guarantee even if protected they can't. Twitter is not incredibly safe.
Protecting your tweets on Twitter gives an air of elitism, and I mostly regard those folks as having something to hide (if you don't want to be seen, why bother with the website?), whether it be opinion or just not realizing the point of Twitter is some measure of social exchange. I agree fully with protecting your messages from anyone.
Following this, I would keep one for my real-life identity (or my expressed published name/identity) that is strictly for professional use. Example: speaking with another professional colleague, making a declarative statement on a subject and needing my qualifications available, announcing papers I release, announcing awards, generally just a portable resume and new-age LinkedIn since LinkedIn will become a joke as soon as people realize it's mostly falling out of favor with the newest generation of workers. All I get are scammers.
Students may add this account, but this would be the account where there will be no interaction with them whatsoever. Sneak in likes if you would want, but remember: everything you do that is against the grain they expect, whether it be liking a snarky contrarian comment, will be taken much further than you predict it to. The passionate kid will take the like as confirmation he's right when he should likely be challenged and helped in making his argument/belief stronger. An exception would be a graduate after the fact whom I may want to promote in some way (assuming I have such clout if it were a professional account).
I would protect the DMs of absolutely from everyone, and give a contact email for questions that is officiated (@overpriceduniversity.edu) (maybe even a separate one) since a lot tends to get filtered from non .edu emails if they were to contact you (not always true ofc). There is certainly a good deal of information exchange happening on social media, aside from the social part- much of it is nonsense, but to see and understand the honest, kneejerk reactions of individuals to certain topics can help one understand the general public opinion, even if the topic is fabricated.
I hope my perspective helps a bit, since in these coming decades, this integration of life, the internet, schools online, and our coming pandemic of total information access obfuscated by FUD is going to be much more difficult to navigate for those who did not grow up in it.
In summation: my line is in bold but italic. No underline. /
There is no problem with using Twitter if you use the proper privacy settings. Under the tab "settings and privacy" you can select: "Protect your Tweets: Only show your Tweets to people who follow you. If selected, you will need to approve each new follower."
And the "Receive messages from anyone" option is unchecked by default, so you should make sure this is indeed unchecked.
The only hard and fast rules I keep to in regards to social media are:
- I don't conduct any school business whatsoever over social media. If students have questions about class material, grading, etc. it needs to go through official (FERPA-compliant) channels.
- I don't add any students myself (current or former) on any social media.
On the other hand I won't deny requests from students either.
From the perspective of minimizing your political liability, I agree with the other answers here that the best policy is to keep social media on complete lockdown. But to be frank: life's too short to live it locked away in a deep, lightless room of the ivory tower (obviously, other reasonable people might disagree). Of course using social media as a public figure carries risk and I accept that risk and its potential consequences.