Fun and Friendly or Wild and Offensive? Preservice Teachers’ Use of and Image Conveyed by Social Media

February, 2020

Source: Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 45(2)

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Given the lack of understanding about what constitutes professional social media use and the potential impact of social media postings on future employment (Barnable et al., 2018; Booth, 2015; Carpenter & Harvey, 2019), it is important to examine the image that preservice teachers convey on social media, their likelihood of posting problematic information on their social media sites, and their preference for others viewing their social media sites.
This study examined the self-reported
(a) images preservice teachers convey on their social media sites;
(b) likelihood of preservice teachers posting problematic content on their social media sites;
(c) preferences of preservice teachers for various others viewing their social media sites;
(d) relationships among types of images conveyed on preservice teachers’ social media sites; and
(e) relationship between images conveyed by preservice teachers on social media sites and both the likelihood of posting problematic content on these sites and preference for others viewing these sites.


This descriptive, correlational study includes survey data from preservice teachers in the College of Education at a rural regional university in the southeastern U.S.
Voluntary participants in this Institutional Review Board approved study included undergraduates enrolled in the initial practicum, pre-professional block (PPB) of a teacher education program.
A convenience sample of participants completed a survey regarding their social media use during PPB orientation.
Surveys were returned from 515 preservice teachers in PPB who participated in social media.

The first author obtained permission from Peluchette and Karl (2010) to modify their existing instrument that examines student postings on social media sites.
Modifications focused on incorporating language that is reflective of teacher education (e.g., field experience supervisor, future students).
The instrument addressed self-perception of image conveyed on social media sites (“Assuming someone viewed your social media site, how likely would the person be to believe you had each of the traits indicated?”), likelihood that respondent would include problematic information on his/her social media sites, and respondent’s preference for others (e.g., friends, family, faculty, current or potential employers) viewing his/her social media sites.

Findings and discussion
The findings of the current study were consistent with those of Peluchette and Karl (2010) and have implications for professions concerned with an ethical, professional identity.
Though the findings of the current study indicate that preservice teachers have some reservations about future employers viewing their social media, some are still posting content that validates these reservations.
These preservice teachers may not truly comprehend that some of their personal social media content may impact their future career and that social media content may be considered grounds for disciplinary action, including termination in both the U.S. (Ashley, 2014; Foss & Olson, 2013) and Australia (“From Twitter to Twired”, 2018; Karp, 2019).
Self-reported information from preservice teachers in the current study noted that the most common image conveyed on their social media sites was fun and friendly followed by intelligent and hard-working; however, some participants did report their social media sites would convey to others personal images characterised as wild or offensive.
This finding corroborates the survey results of Poth et al. (2016) who found that while most of the Canadian preservice teachers in their study regulated the information they posted, a few participants did post images of partying and excessive drinking and profane comments that could be detrimental to them professionally.
The results of the current study reflect the ongoing trend of uncertainty among preservice teachers regarding what is appropriate content, and thus appropriateness of image conveyed, for their social media sites (Crompton et al., 2016; Foss & Olson, 2013; Olson et al., 2009).
Preservice teachers in the current study were generally comfortable with family, friends and classmates viewing their social media sites, but had some reservations about supervisors, employers, and university faculty viewing their sites.
This finding is consistent with that of Foss and Olson (2013) who worked with preservice and early service teachers who had reservations about future employers viewing their social media sites.
This finding also implies that some preservice teachers are in fact cognizant that their social media postings may influence others’ opinions of them personally and professionally.
This may be why some preservice teachers and students in other fields of study are not in favour of using social media data for hiring and firing decisions (Barnable et al., 2018; Drouin et al., 2015).
It should be noted that in the current study preservice teachers conveying an image of intelligent or hard-working were more likely to be comfortable with supervisors, employers, and university faculty viewing their social media sites.
The current study showed that while most preservice teachers were very unlikely to post problematic content on their social media sites, some preservice teachers do still post content that may cause them trouble.
The types of problematic content most likely to be posted included images of preservice teachers drinking alcohol or photos containing alcohol; this is consistent with results from Poth et al. (2016) who noted that one-third of participants posted pictures of partying and Nason et al. (2018) who discovered that 25% of photos posted on Facebook by their participants were unprofessional (i.e., photos showing alcohol use or varying levels of nudity).
It was found that those whose social media sites conveyed an image of wild or offensive also were somewhat more likely to post problematic content.
This is similar to findings of Drouin et al. (2015) who examined students from over 40 majors and found that undergraduates evaluated as having less self-control, more likely to endorse the hookup culture, and more psychologically open were less likely to support the use of social media as part of employers’ employment decisions, suggesting that these students may have more to hide.

Researchers have suggested that while professionalism and ethics are addressed in teacher education programs, limited attention has been given to e-professionalism in these programs (Carpenter & Harvey, 2019; Foss & Olson, 2013; Krutka, Nowell, & Whitlock, 2017; Poth et al., 2016; Rodesiler, 2017).
The discussion of e-professionalism must be incorporated into the overall discussion of teacher professionalism; in addition, explicit policies and consequences for inappropriate/unprofessional social media actions must be established (Rodesiler, 2017).
Preservice teachers must be made aware that professionalism for teachers extends beyond the classroom to their personal social media usage and behaviours.
It is unlikely that preservice and inservice teachers will discontinue social media use anytime in the near future.
In fact, as more social media platforms are developed and those considered to be digital natives make up a larger portion of the teacher workforce, it is likely that social media use will become ubiquitous.
Teacher educators and those responsible for teacher professional development are well-advised to be sure teachers understand the risks of taking their private lives online.
Furthermore, local education agencies should develop clear policies for social media use, such as those developed by the NSW Government (2020) and by the Teachers Registration Board Tasmania (2019).
This study has demonstrated that while preservice teachers may have some understanding that who views their social media is of import, some still post information that is problematic, and this could hinder their chance of employment.

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Updated: Feb. 17, 2021