The new debate about the use of social networking is changing as some states are now banning teachers from communicating with students on Facebook while churches are using them more often to spread God's message.
With the Internet closing in on television as Americans’ main source of national and international news, churches are increasingly using social-networking applications like Facebook as ministry tools while school districts are forming oppositions and imposing bans on teachers.
The debate about the use of social networking is changing as some states are now banning teachers from communicating with students on Facebook.
Churches that once objected to the use of social sites are beginning to use virtual friendships to spread God’s message with more frequency.
Employees with the Dayton Public School District are no longer allowed to “friend” students on Facebook. Starting this school year, Dayton teachers and staff are prohibited from communicating with students online or over text. They can't "friend," "follow" or chat.
Meanwhile, a new law in Missouri makes it illegal for teachers to privately contact current or former students on Facebook and other social networking sites even as a friend of education.
This move prompted the Missouri State Teachers Association to file a lawsuit aimed at blocking the law, citing the potential for infringement on free speech.
“We really do not understand these bans on teachers because they are in class all day and it benefits the students during homework hours, “Kelly Craven, a parent in the Dayton Public School District, told The Christian Post.
“Besides, I have heard judges do not agree with the bans and churches use social networking all the time now.”
Craven said what really shocks her about the teacher bans is that Pope Benedict XVI has weighed in on the debate in favor of social networking.
In a message, the pope said new media and social networks offered “a great opportunity,” but he warned of the risks of having more virtual friends than real ones.
“It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives,” Benedict recorded in a recent document.
Media researchers estimate 60 percent of adults belong to a social network site and more than 92 percent of all children use social sites.
However, states are imposing the new bans due to highlighted inappropriate relationships between teachers and students.
Moreover, school officials say the new policy to ban teachers from using social networking sites with students is designed to protect both the students and the teachers. They say, unfortunately, with all the social media available, there are dangers.
But Chris Forbes, a social media expert with the Southern Baptist Convention, says socialized networks have revolutionized the way people communicate.
The evidence is seen in recent political uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.
“It should be no surprise that, for spreading the Gospel and globally mobilizing people for missions, social media also can have significant, positive implications,” he said.
He also said every institutions across the world could benefit from social media because it makes it easy to pass your content and objectives through word of mouth. Choose the video and message tools that allow you to educate and use bookmarks and blogs to post your copy on other sites – everyone benefits.
“The message of your viral outreach needs to be easy to grasp without explanation and easy to pass on to others,” Forbes said. “It gets people to take action.”
He went on to say that there are three areas in which the use of social networks have had an impact: evangelism, ministry outreach, and educational communications.
Socialized networks today attract a rapidly expanding tech-savvy generation.
According to the Pew Research Center, adults ages 18 to 33 are significantly more likely to use social networking sites, but the gap for older adults is closing.
Christians can use social media to conceal their identities where security is an issue or spread the message of faith to thousands every day.
For Christians, social media has opened up a broad availability of socialized networks that can be used for evangelistic outreach, advocacy for believers, missions strategy and Christian fellowship.
“Social networking tools have become an integral part of most people’s daily lives and relationships,” said Curtis Simmons, vice president for marketing and community at Fellowship Technologies.
“If churches desire to connect with their congregation and community in meaningful ways, then they need to establish a strategy for actively engaging in the social media conversation.”
Critics who object to banning teachers from online communication with students say, as long as teachers are monitored and have a transparent communication process, there should not be a ban imposed.
Huber Heights (Ohio) City Schools Superintendent Bill Kirby said he believes that teachers are on a constant watch.
"It's difficult for teachers because their jobs do not stop at the end of the day. They are a teacher in the community," Kirby said.
Rather than limiting social media, officials at Huber Heights are trying to embrace it.
"I think we've gone from 'should we take cell phones away from students and have them on the shelves, to how can we use these minicomputers they have in their hands?'" Kirby said.
He said he is all about social media, but he is making sure parents are involved too.
He believes that parents should be monitoring what their children are doing in terms of social media.
“Human beings are inherently multimedia creatures,” said Quentin Schultze, professor of communication arts and sciences at Calvin College.
“So, networking takes many forms across all media, including in-person, print, electronic and digital media.”
Social networking has implications for church governance and schools, as leaders sort through a groundswell of information about innovations and ideas.
Will the next spiritual revolution be tweeted? The answer: It already is.
Do you have an opinion about social networking? Post your comment below.