social networking services

Should you friend your students? The short answer is no

Earlier this year I delivered a further cyberbullying guidance document on behalf of Childnet International for the UK Government's Department for Children, Schools and Families. The Guidance follows up (and designed to compliment) cyberbullying guidance, a comprehensive document  that formed part of the Safe To Learn: Embedding anti-bullying work in schools suite of advice. While the initial document was really well received both within the UK & internationally, teachers unions and associations were increasingly being asked to deal with school employee cyberbullying cases – in which the staff member was the person being victimised. I welcomed the opportunity to produce further guidance which would both support employees in term of basic digital literacy information and encourage employers to meet their statutory obligations. The document set out, ambitiously, to encourage policy and procedure be put in place for preventing and dealing with cyberbullying as a whole school community issue – which includes meeting and recognising the specific needs, rights and responsibilities of employees. In no other area of harassment would it be acceptable for an employee to be expected to deal with cases that rose within the work place on their own – yet the reports from school staff included cases where cyberbullying was not taken seriously or understood, and where they had been expected to sort out situations for themselves.

Cyberbullying: Supporting School Staff (PDF) was released in April this year (Google doc version here).  I've been talking about the document a lot recently, and I want to just explore in a little more detail the thinking behind the advice given to school employees regarding friending students in social networking services. The actual text is (with my emphasis):

‘Friending’ refers to the act of giving contacts permission to view information or contact you within web-based services. The terminology will vary from service to service – ‘Friends’ may be called contacts or connections, for example. Most social sites enable you to give different levels of access and set privacy levels on your own content and activity. These functions will vary from service to service but typically include:
•     Information that is only available to the account holder
•     Information that is accessible by contacts on the account
holder’s approved list, and
•     Information that is made publicly available, either within
the service or across the whole of the internet.

‘Friends’ does not necessarily refer in this case to people who are your actual friends, although you may choose to restrict your connections to that. ’Friends’ in this context may also be work colleagues, family members, and people that you have met online.

If you have a social networking account, do not friend pupils or add them to your contact lists. You may be giving them access to personal information and allowing them to contact you inappropriately. They may also be giving you access to their personal information and activities

So the text above outlines three basic levels of permissions granularity that can be found on most sites, gives a definition of friending, and very explicitly says don't friend pupils. This is explicitly prescriptive advice, based on the case studies reviewed during the document negotiations, and an implicit understanding that the school staff accounts referred to are either personal, or contain elements of personal activity (I previously posted on a definition of three basic online identities, characterised as personal, professional, and organisational).

The approach taken then – don't friend pupils – reflects the kind of boundaries between staff and learners that we'd expect to see in offline behavior. You wouldn't expect a teacher to give a school aged pupil their home phone number, show them pictures of their friends or regale them with the weekends social exploits. Obviously friending isn't the only issue here – managing publicly available information so that you are comfortable with what co-workers, learners and employers can access about you is also addressed in the document. The research and anecdotal evidence indicates that we operate within social network services as if we were in a closed, private world. This isn't naive – I think it's a necessary fiction which makes social networking services human spaces. The do not friend advice is there to reinforce the message that private online is typically back of a post-card private, especially if we are within environments where we're not entirely sure who has permission to see what (*cough*Facebook*cough). It also reflects the leakiness of our online identities, the way in which the personal is often hand in hand with the professional.

What the advice isn't trying to do is to put anyone off evaluating social networking services to see if they could support learning & teaching effectively. The advice goes on to state:

If you want to use web-based social networking sites for a class or for the whole school, use a service that doesn’t give contacts access to personal information and updates, or allows collaboration without requiring permissions.

Alternatively ask pupils to create new, work-focused accounts for themselves, and run them as they would an online portfolio or CV.

You can find more information and advice about Social Network Services at

Death and the Social Web


mikebutcher #svc2c #svuk Panel appears to have stumbled on fact that @ajkeen was right: if you're not on social networks you're dead


josiefraser: @ajkeen @mikebutcher Plenty of dead people on twitter, cf @Henry_Fuseli @Edgar_Allan_Poe @JDerridian & million Sigmund Freuds


josiefraser: obscurity maybe even more fatal than death within the social web

My Uncle John died this month, so I had a few more conversations than usual about death, and particularly it's relationship to the social web. Social Networking Services are developing policies and processes relating to the archiving and accessing of people's accounts after they die, and people who have significant digital presence are stating to think about bequest issues – will the sorting out of our online information, artifacts, accounts become an additional job for our relatives or friends, to be approached in the same way as clearing the physical shelves and sorting through documents? And what can explain the rise in popularity of dead celebrity fakesters, some of whom have many more followers than average users?

digital identity after death

an email i received, about death and facebook Ze Frank, September 9 2009

Identity, Memory, Death & the Internet Dave Cormier, September 18th 2009

Grieving Goes Digital NewsOK, May 25 2009

thinking ahead

What happens to your social network accounts when you die?, November 16 2009

Legacy Locker "The secure way to pass your online accounts to your loved ones"

dead celebrities on Twitter

25 Dead People of Twitter Soulellis Studio, March 1 2009

Dead People Twitter List, News

Tweeji "Follow dead people on Twitter"

The problem with the mother


Link love: This post builds on the case study I contributed to the Eduserv workshop on Digital Identities at the British Library today. Everyone's case studies are lodged over at the Pattern Language Network site, along with Yishay's Slidedeck pattern language tutorial on writing a case study. It also moves forward some observations I made in my post Pictures of Children Online a couple of years ago.

From the workshop intro:

"We use the term ‘digital identity’ to refer to the online
representation of an individual within a community, as adopted by that
individual and projected by others. An individual may have multiple
digital identities in multiple communities.

Eduserv have recently funded three projects on digital identity as
a result of our 2008 grants call. This workshop will help the projects
gather case-studies about the ways in which digital identity is
currently manifest in UK higher education.

This event is aimed at people who have an interest in the issues
around digital identity in higher education including employers, HR
staff, careers guidance staff, standards experts, students and

Prior to the workshop we will be collecting a series of “stories”
about digital identity from people attending the event. On the day, we
will be working in groups to discuss and add to the series. Following
this, we will analyse the stories in order to find reoccurring themes
or patterns."

The group I worked with looked at two case studies, my own and Controlling Flickr Contacts, from Margarita Perez Garcia

Case Study: other people's identities

This study looks at issues of parental responsibility & identity disavowal
Created 08 Jan 2009 by Josie Fraser
What was the setting in which this case study occurred?

Like most people working in the field of social media, I have a purposefully easy to find online presence. I belong to multiple social networks, for work, for research, and for experience. The social networks (& I’m using a broad definition here, as outlined in )  I use most frequently are typically those that I can also most easily repurpose and use to maintain a constantly updated pubic presence – Twitter, Fickr, my own blogs, Delicious. Probably more importantly though, they are also the ones that allow me to socialise, discuss, hang out and meet new people. I started using the internet about 12 years ago to socialise, prompted by the physical limitations of being a single mother, of being broke all the time and not having a social or family network. For me the experience of being online was an extremely positive and liberating one, & remains so.

What was the problem to be solved, or the intended effect?

The primary issue was wanting to protect my son from harm, in the broadest sense, and to act respectfully towards him.

I am used to belonging to self-determined communities of people who I like and respect, who I often know exclusively or primarily online. It might seem like an obvious extension of my friendship and relationship building to share stories and pictures of my son, and to model a sense of my everyday experience – which heavily features the joys and logistics of motherhood -online.

However, there are several reasons why I don’t do this. Firstly, there’s thorny the issue of consent, and how my son negotiates and understands this at different points I his life.

There are also ethical, or just straightforwardly thoughtful, considerations. My mum has a particularly embarrassing picture of me that haunted the whole of my childhood. As an adult, I’m ok with it (no, really). Thankfully my mum was mostly sensitive about my particular loathing of this picture and didn’t get it out at every available opportunity – if she’d have put it online I can imagine I would have been mortified. Maybe not at the time she put it up, but certainly a few years down the line, and especially if anyone from my school had come across it.

There's also the issue of digital presence. Is it up to us to contribute to our children’s digital presence? Would you have liked your parents contributing to what searches of you might return? Perhaps by now I would have loved that embarrassing picture of myself – maybe it would have come to mean something entirely different to me. But at different points in my life it certainly wouldn’t have been at all welcome.

The other obvious issues are internet related child abuse and bullying. I’m very much against a moral-panic approach to using technology, and I also think it’s very important that we evaluate and regard risks appropriately. While the vast majority of child abuse takes place entirely offline, and is typically perpetrated by the victims family or immediate circle, that’s also no reason to dismiss the chances of a child or young person we know coming into contact with someone who could harm them. We take steps to educate them about a range of strategies they can use to look out for themselves in their offline and online dealings. In the same way, we need to model good practice ourselves.

Another reason for ‘protecting’ my son and not talking about being a mother was linked to financial insecurity. My career is on the way to being well established, and I’ve proven that I can manage to raise a child ‘alone’ (I moved closer to my mum and sister, so I have the luxury of a support network now) and so it worries me less that people might judge me and choose not to employ me because of my status as a single mother.

What was done to fulfil the task?

Initially, I kept all pictures of my son strictly within private, friends or family only permissions on Flickr. This has changed – I have a couple of pictures of my son as a small child in public. I’m similarly careful about the rest of my young family members too – I posted a picture of my  then 14 year old niece last year only to have it immediately favourited by a complete pervert. I removed the picture from public view, and blocked the pervy guy.

Similarly I don’t really talk about being a mother, although I’ve noticed this changing as my son becomes more independent himself.

Basically, I negated any public online identity that explicitly represented me as a mother for a long time.

What happened? Was is a success? What contributed to the outcomes?
Yes, it worked very well, since I have been consistent and systematic , had clearly defined rules about representing my son which I’ve stuck too. However, my son is getting older, his and my identities are both significantly shifting, and I’m wondering about ‘not having been a mother’. Was it just a handy tactic, or was it a cowardly disavowal of parenthood?  Is ‘being a mother’ in this sense important? For me, or for others?

Lessons Learned:
What did you learn from the experience?

Protecting your children online is actually really easy; watch out for the political speculation.

As we worked through stories to patterns, a very strange thing happened – the role of motherhood disappeared. And this was very clearly another compromise on behalf of the child – in order to demonstrate the meta pattern/problem concerning the protection of the child, we had to make the troublesome issue of the mother go away. The problem of the mother turned out to be that she was the mother. The problem wasn't one that could be solved outside the context of wide spread social and political change. So our title became Others First Managing the tensions between identity & personal responsibility, where identity is enmeshed and shaped by, in this explicit case, the vulnerable other of the child. From this it's possible to extrapolate the pattern on to a broader context – for example, anyone who needs to manage their own or another's online identity or personal safety. If we had more time we could have extended the pattern to look at different kinds of identity management – for example the management of being gay within a homophobic society, the management of responsible friendship etc.

What really struck me today was how the solution to effective protection – that could be interperated as concealment, repression, or confinement to specific circles, mirrors and perpetuates existing social inequalities – making already under represented and less visible groups – namely children and mothers in this case, though I'd argue the same strategy can be applied to a lot of other troublesome identities/bodies – as shadowy in online public spaces as they are off line. 

Twitter allegiance

In the spirit of passing time at Christmas, and following on from a heated discussion about the meaning and robustness of community in online environments, I invited 100 of my 1,276 current Twitter followers to fill in a quick survey cunningly designed to provide a fairly wonky measure of community allegiance. Of course I welcome critical feedback about the methodology employed, but I had two hours sleep last night and yes, I quickly realised the massive cultural bias implicit in most if not all of the questions.

I love Twitter and I've spent an unhealthy amount of time hanging out there in the last year. It's a great site: friendly, open, sharing – sometimes even a little too sharing, but is it a community? Are online meeting places just a useful ruse to avoid the reality of community corrosion offline? Have social networking services taken the place of Baudrillard's Disneyland schema – are they imaginary communities serving to mask the absence of 'real' communities?

Obviously a handful of poorly conceived questions and a small random sample cannot hope to answer such weighty concerns. Maybe they can tell us something about how friendship and civic responsibility are reconfigured within new networks that run through and across geographic boundaries and levels of social contact. Or maybe not.

I invited 100 people to answer – this number determined by the ease of extrapolating percentages and the limit of free accounts over at PollDaddy. Unfortunately the service stopped working for some reason after 90 respondents so the following figures are taken from that final total.

Everyone spent approximately 6 minutes completing the survey, and those 90 nice people filled out the survey in about 3 hours from my initial call for help. Respondents came from Europe and the US, and from the rest of the unknown world. I'm in the UK and operating on GMT time, and most of the people I have met in 3D as well as on Twitter or online come from the UK, so no surprises that baring those 'there be Dragon' lands who represented the largest constituency of respondents.


Each question asked for a yes, no or maybe response to helping out @josiefraser in a variety of scenarios. All respondents were anonymous, although a bunch disclosed their answers to me over at Twitter.

Question 1: Would you fill out a survey for me?


OK – a pretty self-selecting answer since respondents had already clicked through a link asking them to do so, but given that they had no idea what they were being asked to fill out and only internet promises of 'a very short survey', still gratifying that there were no 'no' answers. I'm pretty easy to please and the survey could have finished there, however I pressed on in the interests of academic rigour.

Question two: Would you do a Google search for me, in response to me wondering about something that was obviously searchable?


This question was designed to find out if the respondants would be wiling to do something that took a more effort and thought than ticking boxes, but not too much more. Quite a high percentage (13.3%) said no. Given the amount of JFGI tweets & general annoyance at time wasting questions that flows through the social media den of iniquity that is Twitter, I wasn't that surprised. Given that I work in Social Media myself, I'd have actually thought the number would be higher. However I will regard the high yes figure (53%) as a sign of the generosity of my Twitter community and not as cynical commentary on my skills.

Question three:  Would you step away from your computer and find out something that was in the same room, but not within reach of your computer chair for me?

The first real test of my respondents mettle! Would they be prepaired to help me out in a way that required actual physical effort?


80% of them would! Pressing forward:

Question four: Would you buy a pint for me?


Less success here than the standing up and looking around for something for me question, but still an impressive 68.9% said yes, they would buy me a pint. A pint of what wasn't specified, but it's still probably fair to assume that some of the 11.1% who wouldn't buy me a pint refused on religious grounds, because they look too young to get served in a pub, or in consideration of my health. 

Question five: Would you lend me a tenner (£10)?


Knowing that my Twitter community isn't made up predominantly of very rich people, 52.2% of people who would lend me money is a huge result. Thanks!

Question six: If my house burnt down, could I come and live with you for a week?


OK – now on to the intimate questions. Would you let me come and live in your personal space on a temporary basis? An amazing 41.6% said yes, with a further 37.1% giving me an encouraging maybe – presumably some of them on the condition that I hadn't just burnt down my own house. This was one of only two questions skipped by anyone, presumably because of the level of moral complexity and lack of context. Interestingly, some people who wouldn't lend me money agreed to let me come stay with them.

Question seven: If I developed a really bad allergy, would you adopt my cats?

This question was designed to test the long term commitment of my Twitter community. Actually, it was probably the most badly designed question here, since it doesn't account for other peoples allergies/aversions to cats, or their own personal and domestic circumstances. Also, I've previously tweeted about the feral cat I now grudgingly look after, who has invaded my house and regularly attacks or intimidates me.

 However – this result conclusively proves that 1) there aren't a lot of cat lovers in the Twitterverse and 2) more people pay attention to your tweets than you suspect. 71.1% of respondents were not prepared to save my cats from a possible one way trip to the vet, and a further 11% would think about it.

Question eight: If I needed to stay in the country, and you weren't already married to someone else, would you marry me?

Really digging deep here, and asking people all kinds of ethically engaged questions about someone that they possibly only know off Twitter. There are legal barriers, bureaucratic nightmares, and questions of feeling and delicacy, as Dickens and Austin would put it. Additionally, considering the low figures of respondents currently likely to be living in countries where same sex marriage is legal would probably put some of my respondants off.


Even so – 7.8% of my respondants would marry me if I really needed them to and a staggering 20% were willing to negotiate terms before deciding either way!


Question nine: would you donate a kidney to me?

After mentioning beer, I might have had better luck with a less obviously alcohol damage prone organ, but with only two questions to go under the free account restrictions, I had to hit my respondents hard. We've all seen the scenario: If it was in your power to save someone (albeit someone off Twitter) with only serious but usually non-life threatening harm to yourself, would you do it?


Again, one person declined to answer all together, and 51.7% very reasonably turned me down flat. An amazing 48.3% of respondents either would or would consider donating a major organ! Humbled and astonished are the only words to describe how I was feeling by this point. In the UK, only 26% of the population are on the NHS Organ Donor Register, and have signed up to have their organs used to save a life after their death.

Question ten: In the event of a zombie apocalypse, would you throw yourself between me and the oncoming brain-ravenous hoard?

Given the total likelihood of this doing very little except stalling my inevitable demise, or at best, enabling me to reload my shotgun, I was expecting about no people to step forward for this one. However, my Twitter community is obviously far more heroic and selfless than the average street where people have to actually live next door to one another. Even given that a small percentage of the 11.1% who would cushion me from brain loss possibly have never seen a zombie movie, are feeling Moe Szyslakdepressed at the thought of getting the Mama Mia DVD for Christmas, or actually have a bit of a thing for zombies, this is a resounding victory for imaginary communities everywhere.



Happy Christmas & a fantastic New Year to everyone over at Twitter who has made being online in 2008 such a pleasure, and to all good Social Network Service providers everywhere 🙂