A study released earlier this week has suggested that teachers in the U.K. see Facebook and other social networking platforms as posing a “devastating” threat to schools, worse even than the dreaded visit from Ofsted, the official body for inspecting British schools.
“Facebook is becoming a bigger fear for schools than Ofsted,” said the agreeably-named Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. “Increasingly, social media are being used to fuel campaigns against schools and teachers. Twenty per cent of our members have received threats or abuse online — parents or ex-pupils being the most common source. The results can be devastating.”
I would imagine so. Victims unveiled in the study include a headmistress who faced a year of online abuse from a parent via social media, triggering a breakdown and leaving her suicidal. Another teacher had to be treated for depression and suicidal thoughts after allegations led to her being questioned by the police.
Mr. Hobby’s main concerns regarding campaigns of abuse through platforms such as Facebook is that there is no legislation in place to handle good, old-fashioned lies, and that hate campaigns are often “based on false allegations or innuendo.”
“We’ve seen how social media and the mob mentality can be combined in the recent riots in British cities,” he added.
Quite. Certainly it’s true that some of these examples are very unpleasant and the perpetrators of online hate campaigns (towards anyone, not just teachers) should and must be brought to justice.
However, there’s a much bigger, and far more well-established reason why teachers are scared of Facebook, and always have been.
Namely, photos of them staggering out of nightclubs. Or into police cars. Or, more commonly, brazenly exposing themselves in a series of scantily-clad photographs — which happens more than you might like to believe.
You see, despite appearances, teachers would like you to believe that they are just regular, normal people — like you and me. They see everyone else doing silly things on Facebook, and want to join in. That would seem absolutely fine on paper, but in the cold, hard world of finger-pointing, it doesn’t really work.
I have many teacher acquaintances, and I’m always amazed by how many of them befriend their students on Facebook. In part I admire the enthusiasm they are showing for their chosen profession, but the rest of me is like: “What? Are you completely mad?”
You see, teachers aren’t normal people. Neither are police officers, politicians, soldiers and anyone else that society holds to a higher standard. We expect them to behave in a certain way, and when they step outside of our preconceived ideals we don’t like it, and we usually want — even demand — some accountability.
Social media has allowed many of us to be far more open about the ways that we each choose to live our lives. It’s entirely opt-in — that is, you don’t have to get involved — and the privacy controls are in place on networks such as Facebook to let you decide how much of yourself you want to make public. And how much you don’t.
And if you’re a teacher, it’s my advice that you take full advantage of those privacy options and make as little of your Facebook profile public as possible. Set it so that your name and nothing else shows up in a search on the network.
Use Facebook just to stay in touch with friends and family (and definitely not students), block and report any and everyone who crosses a line, and if somebody starts tagging photos of you on the network, ask them politely but firmly to take them down.
Social media is still in its infancy, and the educational curve is steep. Teachers and schools are right to be concerned, but this isn’t a problem that only affects them. It’s simply one that they’ve only recently become aware of.
Bottom line? Each of us has had to learn the hard way. Welcome to the Internet.