The Ontario College of Teachers has recently issued a professional advisory recommending strict limits on interactions between teachers and students through social media. The advisory emphasizes that teachers are professionals, who are held to high standards of conduct, in both their professional and private lives. Since inappropriate electronic communications with students – including those outside of school hours and unrelated to school matters – can lead to teacher discipline, and even criminal charges, the OCT recommends that teachers take certain precautions in their electronic communications, particularly through social media. Among other guidelines, the advisory recommends that teachers:
- not be “friends” with students on Facebook, refrain from “following” students on Twitter, and otherwise avoid personal connections with students on social media;
- notify parents before using social media for classroom purposes; and
- use appropriate privacy settings when using social media, to ensure that students may not access personal or inappropriate postings.
The recommendations are not surprising, given the high standards of conduct expected of teachers, and the perils teachers may face from inappropriate use of electronic media – as illustrated by the recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision in R. v. Cole.
Although specific to the educational context, the OCT’s professional advisory reflects the importance of addressing the impact which social media, and electronic media in general, can have in various settings. Employers should consider whether the dynamics of their workplace justify guidelines or policies on the appropriate use by employees of social media, for example, in their interactions with each other or with customers, suppliers or other parties.