Has your school felt the sting of the double-edged sword of social media?
Don’t panic, assess the threat
Social media is a powerful tool that helps you communicate useful information to parents and pupils, but what happens when a disgruntled parent takes to the keyboard to share their anger at your school?
Whether this is because of a recent lesson or lunchtime incident, it can be easy to panic when you see the post. It is always best to get a clear understanding of what the post is saying and how much engagement it has.
Commenting publicly on posts with low engagement could end up fanning the flames and cause others to get involved. If the post has received no likes, comments or shares, then you may just want to let it slide since it will probably soon drop off people’s timelines.
Have a complaints procedure in place
When a parent complains on social media, it is likely the result of a snap decision fuelled by anger. If you have judged the post to be damaging to the school, then it is important to address the issue as soon as possible.
Speak to the individual in question, point them to your school’s correct formal complaints procedure and your social media policy which should be easily accessible to all parents online.
Sometimes it is a misunderstanding that you can easily iron out over a phone call or face-to-face meeting. However, if their behaviour continues, or if you’ve received abuse from the parent in question through social media on two or more occasions, then you may wish to contact the police.
Like most issues, prevention is often better than cure and that’s as true here as ever. While most schools will – and should – have a social media policy in place, this policy will often usually only cover staff and pupils and won’t stretch to parents.
And, although most schools will stipulate that all parents sign up to the school’s Code of Conduct, this will often not include conduct on social media.
That being said, ensuring all teachers are conducting best social media practice and adhere to the guidelines detailed in your school’s social media policy, will mean they’re best equipped to deal with any issues should they arise.
The policy should clearly outline the consequences for breaching it and what steps the school can take in the event of a social media issue.
Contact your solicitor
If an individual is harassing a school or teacher on social media, you may have no other choice than to contact your solicitor and ask for their advice on the matter. In such cases they can help draft letters to the individual that advises them on what laws they have potentially breached.
This could be anything from defamation to breaches of confidentiality. If the post is more serious, your solicitor might advise you to take legal action and apply for an injunction.
Applying for an injunction
Applying for an injunction will often be your school’s last resort. While they are a very effective way to put the brakes on any social media harassment from a parent, they can be quite tricky for schools – not to mention costly.
You can’t simply grant an injunction to a parent prohibiting them from entering or contacting a school as they will still need to attend Parents’ Evenings and get in touch to find out important information about their child, for example.
However, if the judge sees the parent’s behaviour as damaging to the school’s reputation, it’s likely they will still grant the injunction to put a stop to their negative social media behaviour.
Should you wish to go down this route, it’s worth ensuring you act quickly, as any delay in proceedings could stop the courts from granting an injunction at all.
Advise your staff
Advising all staff members on how to protect themselves online is another great preventative method.
Such advice as ensuring they make all social media profiles private, don’t befriend parents or pupils through social media channels and advice on what to do if they receive unsolicited messages through social media, are all great places to start. It is also good to outline the differences between professional and personal use of social media.
Schools may also wish to suggest clever ways to make it harder for parents and pupils to find them such as asking teachers to flip the first and last letter of their name around or use nicknames.
… And one for good luck
One clear rule that everyone should remember on social media is to make sure you don’t say anything on a public forum that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. After all, whether you’re a teacher or parent, it’s easy to get carried away when there’s a keyboard at your fingertips.
Kate Hindmarch is partner and head of employment at Langleys Solicitors, a solicitors firm that was responsible for helping to create one of the first UK academies.