In a great post on Techstew called It's Friendship, Friendship, Just a Perfect Blendship, Caren Levine asks a littany of great questions about how teachers, youth works and other professionals in mentoring roles or other roles of authority should be using Facebook.
Here is my answer:
Facebook is powerful and flexible. It can be used, appropriately, in many different ways. The more you know about how Facebooks works (which has changed significantly in the last 10 months - especially regarding privacy settings), the more useful and successful you will be.
Whether or not their organizations have set out policies, anyone in the position of teacher, youth-group leader, rabbi, community organizer, non-profit leader, should have a written statement on how they use Facebook including a summary of how they have set up their privacy settings and under what circumstance they friend someone or accept another's friend request.
You can do a lot on Facebook without being someone's "friend."
An example: given how bad most school homework sites are, a teacher could actually use Facebook for that purpose, creating an invitation only "group" (e.g. Mrs. Cohen's homework Facebook group). In this example, the teacher wouldn't even have to be "friends" with his/her students in order to pull that off. The teacher is leveraging the fact that the kids are already "there" (spending lots of time on Facebook) -- and are more likely to read a "notification" that comes from a posting to the homework "group" than they are to read an email the teacher sends out.
I think it is better for teachers to not friend their students or accept friend requests from them. It's important to have a policy that you share with all your students, such as: "I ignore friend requests from all my students." If you want, you can add, "When you are in college, I'll accept your friend request."
Teachers are in an easier situation than organizational and youth group folks because teachers have great access to their students and have the leverage of grades to motivate their students. Conversely, organizers and youth group leaders are always trying to get access to the eyeballs of the people that they are trying to bring to their events. So these folks have a lot more to lose by not "friending" their constituents (they lose opportunities to project information onto their friends "feeds" -- and the chance to know their constituents better by viewing their profiles.)
So then you think..., "As a youth group leader/Hillel director/rabbi..., where is the separation between my private life and my professional life? I want to use Facebook as a way for me to connect with my friends without having my youth group members, synagogue members see it all."
Here is where becoming a power user of Facebook can really pay off. Facebook has revamped its privacy settings and its implementation of a concept initially dubbed, "Limited Profile." In short, you have precise control over who can see information you post for each content category (in the case of photos, you can decide on a per "album" basis, but for other content, it is for the whole category --e.g. status updates, wall, notes).
For example, I might decide as a youth group leader that I'm going to use "update status" and "notes" as a way to communicate with my "real" friends and use "wall" and "photos" for use with my youth group constituents. With the new "friend lists" and privacy settings, this easy to do.
However, there are some hazards with slicing and dicing of Facebook content dependant on friend lists. One challenge is that you have to remember what scheme you've concocted and/or recheck your privacy settings regularly.
Another problem with targeting certain content for specific friends is that content spheres may not always be as separate as you'd want them to be. For example, a "real" friend might comment on your "update status" (set to "real" friends only) by writing on your "wall" (set to "readable by all friends") -- in which case you'd have to delete the comment from wall in order to keep theses spheres separated. Doable... but this requires a full understanding of Facebook and a lot of attention to it.
- Learn how Facebook works—especially its privacy settings
- Have a strategy that addresses personal and professional needs
- Create and share a personal policy of how you'll use Facebook
Here are some relevant pages from the Facebook blog and help pages: