Sometimes I wonder how we even have telephones or email accounts. These tools when misused can lead to severe FERPA violations. However, at some point, our professional common sense prevailed and we realized that banning communication tools isn't a FERPA requirement. At this point, I realize that some people may have gotten a little lightheaded. That's okay. Let me say it again: FERPA doesn't require us to ban communication tools. Information about FERPA is readily available. Unfortunately, let's be honest, some of you use it as a defense against your own inexperience with certain communication tools - namely social media.
In my work as a higher education consultant (mostly focused on social media and strategic communications within Student Affairs), I get the opportunity to be present at a variety of conversations on social media. Without fail, someone will raise their hand and ask, "but what about FERPA?" As if FERPA has some sort of unique affinity for banning social media channels. Fortunately, this is not the case. Social media are communication tools. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, blogs, etc. are no different than the telephone or MS Outlook when it comes to how we apply FERPA.
The most fascinating aspect of social media in the context of FERPA is that so many student affairs professionals will claim "FERPA fouls" before any infraction occurs. Social media doesn't incapacitate our normally astute brains. Why would we violate FERPA in any communications context? It's baffling how it became professionally acceptable for some of our peers to swing the FERPA banhammer towards social media tools without a single dissenting voice.
And, if you have a question about whether or not your use of social media is violating FERPA, do us all a favor. Have a conversation with your institutions FERPA interpreters. The list of what is protected information vs. what is okay to share publicly isn't really that complicated. Before you swing the banhammer, please make sure that you've actually read about FERPA.
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