Boundaries, social media, and ethics, oh my!
Yoga students friend me on Facebook all the time.
See, as a yoga teacher, I work in an industry where personal connection is valued. I have the pleasure of working with some of my yoga students up to four times a week. I know their names, their injuries, their sense of humour. Before and after class, we share stories and connect about life happenings. Sometimes, these online connections lead to real-time meetings (coffee, sometimes evolving to friendships). In fact, one of my yoga mentors advised, “Treat your students like friends. No more. No less.” Also, my teaching personality is familiar and candid; though I never feel that they are exposing, my in-class anecdotes are frequently personal in nature and I often story tell about relationships and personal experiences.
Creating clear boundaries can be tricky when working in an industry that seems is so focused on “building community.” Also, social networking is the currency of private contractors; that is, the number of “friends” that I have on Facebook dictates my sphere of influence. If I have a workshop or training coming up, I want to have a robust community in order to create a successful event. So yoga teachers are caught in an interesting bind: we want extensive communities that capitalize on our personal connections, yet at the same time, we need to have boundaries that respect our student’s privacy.
As an original attempt at separation, I had set up a professional Page and a personal profile. However, students searching for me frequently find my personal page first and initiate friendships. Given the warmth of the nature of our relationship, it feels rude to not be “friends.” So both my page and my profile are now public fodder. And even if I did have complete separation, posting anything personal to Facebook at all is risky since one’s posts can be seen on others’ timelines. As a result, I don’t post anything that I consider overly personal on Facebook at all.
Perhaps the publicity of Facebook will lead to an elevation in communication. In other words, there is no such thing as “speaking behind someone’s back” because someone can turn around at any second. Even private messages could be screenshot and emailed. Anything written can – and could be – used against you in a court of public opinion, if not of law.
In this light, perhaps we can view the dissolution of privacy as an opportunity to step up, rather than scurry underground. If all our behaviour can be exposed, maybe we’ll just behave better. Rather than lament the lack of privacy, let’s embrace behaving in a way that is always fit for public consumption. Let’s act and speak in ways that won’t later make us cringe. And perhaps in this light, we can be more tolerant and compassionate about behaviour that’s outed that may not be ideal.
Because that virtual stone that gets cast on Facebook may just come back around and bite our bums on Twitter.
Burner, K. & Dennen, V. (2013). Boundaries, privacy and social media use in higher education: What do students think, want, and do? Selected Papers of Internet Research 14.
Burner, K. & Dennen, V. Friending and Footprints: Privacy and ethical issues of Facebook use in higher education.