Would you poke your professor?

When is friending too friendly?Before senior Lisa Rosenburg leaves her house for the day, she checks her Facebook account.Then she checks it another four times throughout the day.While Facebook has certainly impacted Rosenburg’s daily schedule, the impact the site has had on society is one of degree rather than drastic change, according to associate sociology professor Thomas Streeter.Streeter admits that it is hard to sort out what is a fad and what is substantial in such a new technology, but sees social networking sites simply as a continuation of existing communication technologies like cell phones and e-mail.As social networking sites make it easier and easier to stay connected across state and national boundaries, it complicates what defines the concept of community. Personal ties used to be related much more to place than they are now, Streeter said.”You might not know the person living 30 feet away from you, but you know who your best friend, living 3,000 miles away, slept with last week,” Streeter said.Facebook originated as a site exclusive to individuals with a college e-mail address, though it certainly has not remained that way.Students no longer simply field friend requests from kids in their dormitory, but now can keep in touch with parents, bosses and professors.But when is “friending” too friendly?Senior Tyler Mayo said he usually makes it a rule not to connect with professors on Facebook.”There is a definite barrier between students and professors, or at least there should be,” he said.Senior Heather Bell generally agrees that there should be a line between professional and personal relationships. However, she thinks there might be exceptions to this rule.Bell said she would consider friending a professor only if they were someone she knew really well, like an advisor. Should your advisors see your albums?Many professors at UVM established personal protocol for navigating the ethical issues around social networking sites.Assistant classics professor Angeline Chiu uses her Facebook to keep in touch with people and to run the UVM Goodrich classical club page.She agreed that there it is a thin line between academic or professional and personal use of such social networking sites.Chiu will not become friends on Facebook with students she currently has in class, but she has no problem with accepting former students’ friend requests.While nothing weird has happened to her before, Chiu said she is sometimes wary of how public a forum social networking sites are.”I wouldn’t want to see students trashing one of my colleagues in a conversation on their walls,” she said. “That could be awkward.”Ian Grimmer, a lecturer in the history department, agrees that there is an important boundary between students and professors that has to be respected.Grimmer will not accept friend requests from any students who are still at UVM.”It simply doesn’t seem professional,” he said.While both Grimmer and Chiu are wary of the complications of creating personal relationships online with students, they also both believe that social networking websites are a great way to keep track of students who have graduated.”You work with these people and you mentor them, so it’s nice to see what they are going on to do,” Grimmer said.Streeter said that relationships between professors and students have always been complicated, as college students often are somewhere between being private individuals and having professional roles in society.”The rules are always being negotiated,” Streeter said.Along with potential concerns about appropriate boundaries between personal and work relationships, social networking sites can present legal implications as well. How can tagging lead to trouble?What could happen to the underage student or the student organization whose Facebook profile is full of photos of alcohol consumption?For the UVM police, the Internet and social networking websites serve as just one more source of information. Captain Tim Bilodeau of UVM Police Services compares the sites to a bulletin board in the student center.Bilodeau said that if someone exchanges information in a public place and it comes to the attention of the police that there is a public safety concern, the police would look into it — the Internet is no different in that regard.”We’ve had incidents where groups have put stuff on websites that led us to investigating public safety,” he said.However, just because a seemingly illegal activity pictured or described online comes to Bilodeau’s attention does not mean that there will automatically be an arrest.”We have to get context for the photos,” he said.Some student groups at UVM have found ways to avoid these issues. Sorority chapters on campus ask their members to make their profiles, and especially their photos, private.Sometimes the ways in which students portray themselves represent not only an organization, but also their university.Residential Advisors (RAs) serve as models for their community — acting as the resources residents rely on for support and advice.There is no set policy on the things RAs can and cannot display or talk about on their personal web pages. However, that aspect of their image is evaluated when they are being considered for the job.”I know people who weren’t hired because of their profiles,” senior Keith Williams said. An RA throughout his sophomore year, he said that Facebook images of drinking, especially in the dorms, were brought up in RA interviews and was a serious hinderance to being hired.Social networking sites may be changing the way people interact and present themselves, but some things never change.”My 14-year-old would rather die than have me be his friend on Facebook,” Streeter said.