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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: "Heartbroken Teacher in Oakland, Calif." (Jan. 14) did absolutely nothing wrong! He wrote a letter of recommendation based on his knowledge and impression of one of his students. That was all he could and should have done. He wasn't obligated to do a background check or any kind of research. That is for the future employer to do if he/she chooses.

I also teach, and would have done exactly the same as he did. It is shocking and sad to discover that one's impression of a student was partially incorrect. Keeping secrets about past wrongdoings is nothing new. But social networking sites make the evidence of such behavior more accessible. This is an issue for our society to address. -- HELEN IN LOMPOC, CALIF.

DEAR HELEN: I agree. And only time will tell how it will be resolved. That letter, from a teacher shocked to learn a respected student had posted inappropriate stories about herself online, generated tons of responses from both here and abroad. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I am a 25-year-old education student. I don't have a social networking site, nor do I have any desire to create one. I don't understand the importance of posting pictures and personal information on the Internet for all to see. My father, a computer programmer, taught me that once something is posted on the Internet, it's there forever, regardless of whether it is deleted or not.

When I ask classmates why they use a social networking site, the most common answer is, "To stay in touch with family and friends." The last time I checked, the telephone was used for that reason. -- KIM IN ORADELL, N.J.

DEAR ABBY: I am tired of living in a world that revolves around social networking sites. As a 20-something, I have friends who don't think twice about what they post. They'll tell the world anything -- from drug use, sex stories, their latest vandalism to their disgusting underage drunken escapades. They also include semi-nude photos of themselves because they think it's cute. I truly am ... ASHAMED OF MY GENERATION, RED OAK, TEXAS

DEAR ABBY: As teachers, we never completely see the character of our students. I interact with them outside of the classroom, but only at lunch and in student groups. No matter how friendly I become with my students, I am always their teacher, so I can never fully know who they are, and I never assume that I do.

When I write a recommendation, I can only comment on the person I was able to observe as their teacher (or rarely, mentor). My recommendation letters often mention my boundaries of perception, and I never go beyond that. Teachers shouldn't fear the repercussions of their comments if they honestly state what they observed. -- CHRISTENSEN IN DAEGU, SOUTH KOREA

DEAR ABBY: Employers managed for centuries without being able to learn a person's life story at the click of a button. There's a reason it's called "social networking." If we wanted our employers there, we'd invite them. Anyone who snoops uninvited is invading our privacy. My employer pays me for the time I am at work. The rest of the time, I should be free to do as I please. -- CHRISTOPHER IN COLUMBUS, OHIO

DEAR ABBY: Years ago, we had a different definition of "friend." A friend was a flesh-and-blood person with whom one visited face-to-face, not some image on an electronic screen. Before I'm branded an old fogy, let me say I realize social networking sites have advantages and disadvantages.

In my youth -- and occasionally even now -- when I get together with friends, discretion is sometimes thrown to the wind. But if I decide to put the proverbial lamp shade on my head, it's in the company of a chosen few. Why do the youth of today pride themselves in exposing their indiscretions? Do they really need a record of all the times they acted like a jackass? -- RATIONAL IN JOHNSTOWN, PA.

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