Answer: No, it is not illegal to follow your teacher on Instagram.
That being said, when it comes to student and teacher interactions on Instagram, everyone should step carefully.
In the article that follows, we’ll explain.
Is It Illegal To Follow Your Teacher on Instagram? (Discussion)
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Purpose of Rules Between Students and Teachers
In general, the rules about social media and communications between students and teachers are aimed at protecting the student.
The rules generally bind the teacher, and not the student.
For the most part, the rules about student-teacher communications are a part of the teacher’s employment, meaning they are rules set by the school and not necessarily the criminal code.
If the teacher has a public Instagram account, and the student in his free time comes across the account, there is nothing in the criminal code that would prevent the student from clicking the “follow” button.
The school might have something to say about the teacher’s public Instagram account, or even the content posted on the public Instagram account, or the teacher’s acceptance of student followers to his Instagram account, but there are no rules that we know of that lawfully prevent students from following teacher accounts.
Regulation of Student/Teacher Communications
While it is not illegal for a student to follow a teacher’s account, there are reasons why student/teacher communications are controlled or limited by school regulations and policies.
Unfortunately, a small fraction of teachers placed in the position of interacting with students and gaining their friendship and trust have abused that position.
They have used their access and association with students to commit illegal acts, such as engaging in physical relationships with students, showing them illicit materials, or providing them with substances the underage individuals cannot possess or use.
Communications via social media are somewhat easier for teenagers to shield from their parents, who may only be looking at emails, SMS text messages, or records of phone calls.
Parents may also have strong feelings about the content posted by the teacher on his personal Instagram (political, religious, inflammatory, incorrect).
The school does not want to field phone calls and emails from parents complaining about something the teacher posted on his Instagram account.
Other Considerations (For Adult Students Too)
A connection on social media can imply something that a student (and teacher) might not mean.
This doesn’t have to be illegal or nefarious.
Instead, it could imply a closeness that would be inappropriate for someone in a position of management of the student (might imply bias, for example).
If the teacher was on a committee that reviewed job applications, the Instagram connection could be cause trouble for the student and the teacher during the review process.
People do not realize just how thorough some background checks are, and the conclusions that can be drawn from the information discovered.
If a person is in the process of applying for school, jobs, or other positions of importance, it can be a good time to shut down social media accounts.
Best Practices For Students On Instagram
If a student chooses to follow his current teacher on Instagram, here’s a things to consider doing:
- The student notifies his parents that his teacher has an Instagram account, and that he intends to follow the account.
- The student allows his parents to openly view his Instagram account, including all the content and any communications.
- The student does not engage in direct messaging via Instagram with the teacher, and instead saves any communications for school or on a message where his parents are included.
- The parent discusses ‘grooming’ with the student, so the student understands what it is and what to watch for.
However, it would be better for the student to wait to follow the teacher until the student is no longer a student of the school (or at least of the teacher) (until the child is no longer a minor).
After all, Instagram can be a great way for teachers and former students to stay in touch and to keep up on the student’s growth and progress which the teacher worked so hard on.
Best Practices For Teachers
Between the student and the teacher, the teacher has much more to lose professionally than the student does if the teacher has a public Instagram account.
First and foremost, the teacher should know the rules of their employer backwards and forwards as it relates to social media accounts, as a misstep could result in the loss of employment and difficulty in obtaining a subsequent position.
Aside from employer rules, it is generally recommended that teachers who wish to maintain Instagram accounts keep them private, and vet their followers carefully to make sure none of their current students are following them on Instagram.
If a friend request comes from someone who is a current student, the teacher is recommended to deny the request until the student is older or no longer a part of the school.
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