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Facing the Facebook Ethics
Rhonda Williams, Ed.D., LPC, NCC
Sunday November 01, 2009
by: Rhonda Williams, Ed.D., LPC, NCC

Section: Inside Insight

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Q: I have set up a Facebook page for my school counseling department. I’m careful to keep my personal Facebook account totally separate from my school one, and I don’t accept friend requests from any students on my personal account. However, via the school counseling Facebook account, sometimes I see things on students’ Facebook pages that concern me, such as inappropriate pictures, status updates about underage drinking or bullying comments about other students. What is my role, if any, in addressing these issues?

A: The age of technology has added many conveniences to our lives, but with the benefits also come many personal and professional challenges. A new aspect of this technology is social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace. Students love communicating with each other this way, but they’ve opened a Pandora’s box chockfull of bullying and other abuses and misuses. As school counselors, we owe it to our students to be on the front lines, advocating for students who may be feeling the sting of social networking sites.It’s our job to stay current with the various sites and the research on how the sites affect students. This knowledge helps us develop appropriate, effective methods of intervention to counteract possible negative repercussions.
Although ASCA’s Ethical Standards were originally developed long before the advent of social networking sites, they can still provide guidance for us in this arena.
The school counselor in the above-mentioned scenario was in tune with the ASCA Ethical Standards regarding dual relationships. Facebook, Myspace and other social networking sites can easily create a dual relationship between you and your students if you don’t exercise caution. A student befriending a school counselor on social networking sites could constitute a dual relationship. Obviously students shouldn’t have access to your personal information on Facebook. This type of disclosure convolutes the student/counselor relationship and creates a dual relationship.
In conjunction with that aspect of a dual relationship, personal information about a student can also add to this slippery slope. A school’s Facebook site is typically intended for academic and career purposes. There is no guarantee, however, that some residual information about students’ personal lives may not seep into this site, and you can’t afford to let it go unaddressed. Although garnering personal information about students isn’t the intent of this type of site, you should still include information about informed consent on the school counseling department’s Facebook site. ASCA Ethical Standards section A.2 recommends informing students of the purpose, goals, techniques and rules of procedure. This is not only true for individual counseling but also for other counseling services the school counseling department provides. This informed consent can clarify limits of confidentiality and “legal and authoritative restraints” regarding this Web site. Because informed consent is posted on this site, you can  then respond to the areas of concern in the best interests of students.
A responsive approach from an ethical school counselor will also include policy development and implementation. As an educational leader, you can assimilate the research literature and propose school policies that will protect students while also protecting the integrity and intent of the school’s Facebook page.
In section B.2.b, Parents/Guardians and Confidentiality, of the ASCA Ethical Standards, collaboration with parents when working with minors includes Internet safety. In the same section under B.2.c the standards encourage that school counselors “Provide parents/guardians with accurate, comprehensive and relevant information in an objective and caring manner, as is appropriate and consistent with ethical responsibilities to the student.”
In support of the professional commitment to collaborating with parents, it would be an invaluable service to educate parents about some of the important features of the emotional, social and physical risk factors of the Internet. Forewarned is forearmed certainly serves as an applicable cliché regarding Internet safety. Given that cyberbullying, and sexting are two of the most prevalent forms of online harassment among students, parents need all the knowledge and support you can offer.
Technology is here to stay, but not in the same forms as we know it now. As this element of the world grows, it changes our culture. With each new technological discovery, unintended consequences erupt that often affect students. We can’t afford to bemoan the ever-changing cyber-world and all the hassles it may cause. We must intervene and protect our students, using whatever means available.