Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Politics of Friending

Reviewing through the recent comments about Associated Press' continuing battle over how to manage social media with its staff, the hidden nugget that catches my eye is this one:

AP managers "should not issue friend requests to subordinates."

In speaking with a new colleague here at Northwestern State, he brings up a similar point in regard to teachers and students. I was advocating the free and widespread use of Facebook to help recruit high school students to the school, and to then give them a point of contact once at NSU. No argument there, but my friend brings up a point quite similar to that raised by AP.

He tells me the story of students that had come to him uneasy about a friend request from a tenured professor. The student was in a quandary by the request. If felt compelled to accept. To not accept the friending may or may not be reflected in future grading. Personally, I think that's a bit of a stretch -- there may be plenty of other points of discrimination more tangible than to think ignoring a friend request.

But it did make me think about the inequitous relationship between teacher and student. Other examples of the students the teacher perceives as the best in the class, or worse, friend requests to only the attractive students (call that the Anthony Wiener syndrome).

AP's throw away reflects a similar problem. What happens when the boss wants to be your friend? Is it to be collegial? Is it to monitor the staff?

We agreed that for teachers it may be best to recommend that if one friends students, one should friend the entire class or group -- no exceptions -- and then simply accept that some may not be willing to participate. It did seem better to have the relationship flow in the other direction -- students initiating the friending.

It reminded me of my long-standing point regarding official Twitter feeds (again, Wiener time) that who an institution follows creates an unofficial endorsement.

Meanwhile, I have to say that it's a little amusing that the focus of the discussion is that it's OK to have opinions on sports and work for the AP, but God forbid having political opinions. I must say, I'd favor the initial version of the policy that said no opinion at all. Harry King, the long time AP sports editor for Arkansas, comes to mind. Harry played it right down the middle as the head guy for AP, and not until he departed the service and became a columnist did his opinions surface. That's not to say there was anything particularly shocking there, but why does AP think it's OK to opine only in certain areas? If the goal is to be as neutral as possible, who is to say that a news side reporter won't find himself in the middle of a serious news story about the very sports teams he or she has rooted for or against?

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