The purpose of this document is to provide guidance to students, faculty, and staff in the use of social-networking applications, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Twitter. Because these sites are outside of the official control of the University of Minnesota Duluth, we do not believe it is appropriate to write a policy governing their use, but we do recognize the need to educate and inform the University community about them.
The benefit of social-networking sites is to help you stay connected with friends, family, and colleagues. While Facebook is perhaps the most highly used of these sites, MySpace and Twitter are other popular sites. Many people have reconnected with old friends, made new friends, and enhanced their communications with family members through the use of these sites.
Social-networking sites ask you to provide some information about yourself when you sign up. This enables others who may know you to find you in the site and connect to you. In addition, social-networking sites often have privacy settings that you can manage. Be aware that identity thieves, burglars, and financial scammers use these sites, too. The more information criminals can gather about you, the better equipped they will be to take advantage of you. Be careful with the information you share about yourself, and manage your privacy settings carefully. Also, be aware that privacy settings may change, often without notification, so it is a good idea to review these regularly. Never put truly private information, such as Social Security numbers into a social-networking site. Don't share passwords publicly, and if you move into a shopping site from a social-networking site, make sure the shopping site is using good security before providing your credit-card number.
Some social-networking sites, such as LinkedIn, provide you with an opportunity to connect and stay in touch with your professional contacts. Many people use the contacts they make here to help with job searches, requests for information, and tips to enhance their professional lives. In these sites, it is especially important to present yourself in a professional way.
Most social-networking sites enable you to identify other people and request to be their friend. This friend relationship gives you access to the information your friend has posted, as well as giving your friend access to your information. Before requesting someone to be your friend, give some consideration to your real-life relationship with that person. If you are a student, should you ask a faculty member to be your friend? Should a faculty member ask a student to be a friend? What about supervisors and subordinates? By asking someone to be a friend in a social-networking site, you may be putting that person in an awkward position. If you have some authority over the person you are asking, will he or she feel free to say no? Will you be intruding on the person's private life? Tread carefully here, and be gracious if someone turns you down.
If you are a faculty member, you may decide that it is important to the content of a course for students to join and use a social-networking site. Given the discussion above about power differences, you should consider options to make sure students feel comfortable with this. If students and faculty do not want to use their regular accounts for class work, it is recommended they create different accounts.
Here's a great article from the Chronicle of Higher Education:The Creepy Treehouse Problem. The authors outline some strategies for avoiding creepy intrusions into students' lives. The article, FERPA and Social Media, addresses concerns about privacy of student information.
The net has a long memory, and others are watching. Before you post, think about whether it's something you would want your grandmother to see. Even though, correctly configured, what you post should be limited to your friends for viewing, there is nothing to prevent friends from copying something you wrote and passing it on. Pictures can be downloaded and distributed in other ways. Your future employer or your current boss may be watching. Once your reputation is damaged, it can be hard to recover.
Cyberbullying is bullying behavior that happens online, often in social-networking sites. Wikipedia has a long article on cyber-bullying if you would like more information. This problem is recognized by many as causing great harm, sometimes resulting in depression or suicide of the bullied person.
What can you do? Don't participate yourself, and take a stand against others who do. Cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking activities may be addressed under the UMD Student Conduct Code, UMD Policy on Appropriate Use of Information Technology, University of Minnesota Policy on Sexual Assault, Stalking, and Relationship Violence, University of Minnesota Board of Regents Policy on Sexual Harassment, and civil or criminal law, so report problems you see to the appropriate authorities.
Freedom of speech and academic freedom are valued tenets of our academic community. Work to balance these important freedoms with our desire to have a civil society and safe community at UMD. Recognize the value of diverse viewpoints, even when you do not agree with them. Understand that arguments supported by facts and data are stronger and more believable than simple rants.
To see how Facebook balances freedom of speech with civility, read Facebook Wrestles With Free Speech and Civility from the New York Times, December 12, 2010.
If you are representing the University in social-networking sites, see University of Minnesota Brand Guidelines on Social Networking.
Never post private University data on public web sites, including social-networking sites.
As members of the UMD Community, we are all accountable for our behavior, both face-to-face and online. Just as you protect your own reputation, think about the reputation of the institution as you enjoy yourself on the Internet. When exercising your own right of free speech, you may want to state that you are giving your own opinions and not those of the University.
Despite all the warnings, social-networking sites provide a fun and sociable outlet for all of us. Use them and enjoy them, but do it thoughtfully.
The Creepy Treehouse Problem from the Chronicle of Higher Education, March 9, 2010
Cyber-bullying from Wikipedia
Facebook Wrestles With Free Speech and Civility from the New York Times, December 12, 2010
Privacy and Social Media, from Faculty Focus, February 7, 2011
7 Things You Should Know About Privacy in Web 2.0 Learning Environments, from EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, September 7, 2010
7 Things You Should Know About Facebook, from EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, September 15, 2006
7 Things You Should Know About Twitter, from EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, July 18, 2007
7 Things You Should Know About Ning, from EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, April 23, 2008
On December 30, 2012, additional information from EDUCAUSE was added to Related Policies and Information.