It’s such a hard thing when old students want to add me on facebook. One of my very nicest and hardest working students who I taught for a year and a half just sent a message and tried to add me yesterday. The problem is she’s 10 which isn’t even old enough to be allowed on facebook, and I don’t have a 100% kid-safe feed.

I sent her a message saying how great it was to hear from her, and asked how school was going. I gave her my email and said to pass it on to her mom, who used to talk with once or twice a week, and I said maybe I’d say hello next time I visited Taiwan.

Her response:

“ok~ thanks! Can you be friends with me??”

What can you say?

“No! Go away!”

would be hurting a very kind-hearted little person who literally put in hundreds of hours of work, trying her hardest to earn my approval.

In the end I sent a kind of lame reply saying, “Of course I’m your friend! It was wonderful teaching you all that time and I’ll always hope the best for you… but facebook isn’t really made for kids. Have your parents add me instead, and they can share things from my feed with you.”

Facebook has privacy settings but due to frequent updates and ill-chosen defaults it’s just not that safe. Heck, even Steve Yegge, a famous employee of Amazon and then Google, messed up on Google+ and sent a private post out to the entire internet. Incidentally, Google+ has a much better design for handling different levels of privacy than FB does.

The easiest solution I see is to have multiple personas. If it were allowed by FB, I might have a main profile for actual friends and family and then a second one, a “Mr. Wilbur 老師” for the many students and parents I’ve known over the years who want to stay in touch. I don’t really want them to see pictures of me out at a bar or KTV with my buddies, but cutting them off from everything feels wrong, too. I’d like to share a feed, but one I could be certain was no more objectionable than Mr. Rogers. I put my heart and soul in to teaching for the better part of my 20’s, and in retrospect I feel far more fulfilled by what I did for my students than by learning Chinese, running a business or any other personal achievements. I really do like to hear how they’re doing and I don’t think that will change over the next 10 years or over the next 50.