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Will Missouri 'Facebook Law' spook teachers away from social media?

Some say Missouri's new 'Facebook Law' blocks useful student-teacher communication. Others call it a new gloss on an old rule: Teachers shouldn't be too chummy with students.

By Staff writer / August 3, 2011

College student Joy Troy, checks a Twitter page from the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles in this 2009 file photo. A new Missouri 'Facebook Law' regulates social media communication between teachers and students.

Damian Dovarganes / AP / File

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Atlanta

Come Aug. 28, Missouri teachers and students can still discuss Shakespeare and last night's chemistry homework on social media services like Facebook.

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But a new law – the first of its kind in the nation – will forbid "exclusive," or private, conversations between teachers and students on social media platforms, in an attempt to curtail the potential for inappropriate conversations, sexual harassment, or abuse.

In so doing, the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act raises important questions: What is appropriate online etiquette between students and teachers? And to what extent – if any – should social media be regulated, in an era when young people choose sites like Facebook and Twitter for information and communication?

"I think this law is an attempt to guard against the dangers of social media, a [classical] response to technology that, 'Oh, my gosh, this is going to ruin the world,' " says Charol Shakeshaft, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who researches sexual exploitation of children. "But it's also saying, more seriously, 'Let's think about how to make people aware' " of the technology's impact, including its potential to exploit children, she adds.

Facebook officials say they've launched an investigative probe of the Missouri law, noting that their site can be is a "valuable educational tool." "It is imperative that this law does not limit schools' and teachers' ability to use technology in this way to educate Missouri's students," Facebook spokesman Tucker Bounds wrote in an email to Fox News.

Teachers migrating online to meet their students where they (virtually) hang out is a trend that's been growing for years. For many teachers, it's a powerful new way to communicate outside of class, whether it be about projects or field trips. Studies have found it can boost educational opportunities and make teachers approachable in ways that help students connect with teachers and improve learning.

College students who accessed their professors' Facebook pages "anticipated higher levels of motivation and affective learning," says a new study in the journal Communication Education, which also warned of "possible negative associations between teacher use of Facebook and teacher credibility."

Parents should encourage teachers opportunities to meet students in these virtual spaces, driven by collaboration and knowledge-sharing, say some social media experts.

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