Social Media and Schools

There is no doubt that the development of technology and its use in the classroom has created an indispensible tool to engage and interact with students. However, the misuse of technology, primarily social media, has been labeled a hazard for educators.

Social media misuse is prevalent in schools and is reported about frequently. Most often it is students that are involved; however, teachers are increasingly being caught misusing social media, as the lines between what constitutes use and misuse have become blurred.

It has become integral for schools to have policies and procedures in place to manage the risks that can arise from the misuse of social media. Staff and students need to have clear guidelines and expectations on what behaviour is acceptable and what is not.

Why is it a problem?

Social media misuse can be a significant problem for schools, especially when both students and teachers are involved.

The problem has become exacerbated because social media is so readily available and accessible. Although many schools try to restrict the usage of social media during school time, students and teachers are still able to access it through their own personal devices.

Common examples of social media misuse include:

  • students setting up fake accounts in a teacher or another student’s name;
  • teachers being “friends” or someway connected to students on social media;
  • unauthorised sharing of school information with students;
  • students and teachers interacting inappropriately on social media;
  • harassment, cyber bullying and defamation;
  • distribution of offensive / explicit material; and
  • videos and photos of persons being distributed (e.g. via YouTube).

Schools owe a duty of care to students; the duty is to take reasonable care for the safety and welfare of students. Schools also owe a duty of care to their employees; they must take reasonable steps to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees. Schools need to ensure that they implement appropriate safeguards to protect students and teachers from such harm.

The detrimental effects that can arise out of the misuse of social media reiterate the importance of a school taking steps to protect students and teachers from harm.

In addition to the harm that may be suffered by a teacher or student, the school may also suffer reputational harm. In some instances, students have referred to the school or school logo when posting offensive and derogatory materials.

How Can Schools Manage the Risk?

It is essential that schools have comprehensive policies that govern the use of social media. Additionally, schools should have procedures / practices which implement and enforce such a policy. It may be necessary to have separate policies for staff and students.

These policies should clearly outline and govern the use of social media amongst teachers and students, and outline the consequences that will arise if the policy is breached.

As a means to protect students, teachers and limit liability schools should consider:

  • monitoring technology use at school on school provided devices and internet services;
  • informing and discussing the social media policy with teachers and students to reaffirm the school’s stance on social media misuse and position on addressing such misuse;
  • have reporting processes in place and refer matters of misuse to the police where necessary;
  • implement and apply the policy across teachers and students consistently; and
  • educate teachers and students on the effect and impacts of misuse of social media, and legal sanctions they may face as a result of such misuse.