How schools can stay safe whilst using social media

Danny Bermant

Danny is the Founder and Director of Brainstorm Digital who provide social media training to help schools attract more students and enhance their reputation.

Follow @Brainstormdsgn

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Is fear of abuse preventing you from using social media in your school? Are you unsure of what safeguards you can put in place to protect your pupils?

When social media was little more than a tool for socialising, schools could get away with avoiding it. Not any longer. Whether it’s buying a new product, doing business with someone, recruiting a member of staff, or learning a new skill, social media will usually play a part. In fact, social media has become a new form of literacy.

So how do you encourage social media without placing your school at risk?

Here are the steps your school should take before bringing social media into the classroom.

1. Before posting anything on the internet, those tasked with the school’s internet presence should agree on what they actually want to share about the school on the internet.  They also need to be aware of some basic safety requirements:

  • Parental/Guardian permission is always required before any pupils can be featured in name, picture, videos or in reference to a piece of their work on the internet, as posted by the school.
  • Where photos of pupils are displayed on social media channels, there should be no names included in the captions as this could place a particular student at risk.
  • Whilst it’s ok to interact with pupils on public channels e.g. school related Twitter account, school related Facebook page, it’s not ok to communicate with pupils via any personal accounts. Any requests from pupils to connect via a personal account should be ignored.

2. To ensure that staff members understand all the implications of internet safety, schools should set up and distribute their own internet and social media guidelines. This should typically cover issues such as:

  • Tone of voice to be used (e.g. serious/playful/non-aggressive etc)
  • How frequently staff should post
  • Where to source content from
  • How complaints are dealt with and how quickly
  • Acceptable contact with pupils and parents
  • Infringement of copyright
  • Avoiding conflicts of interest
  • Rectifying mistakes e.g. giving out the wrong information
  • Disclosing confidential information
  • Not damaging the reputation of your school

This should be publicly advertised as it will reassure parents, as well as staff. By giving them detailed information on what is safe and what is not safe, you’ll help to empower them to adopt social media in their classroom. An example of such a policy can be seen here:

3. Schools also need to make staff aware that different social media platforms have their own additional security settings which can be activated on all official pages or accounts.

On Facebook, for example, you can control via the permissions settings what content can be posted to a school’s page. The obvious areas for restriction are limiting the ability of your audience to post photos and videos on your wall. If you’re unsure of how restrictive you should be, then the safest bet is to be draconian to begin with, limiting most commentary and to remove the restrictions slowly as you feel more comfortable in trusting those who view your page. This is easy to do and it comes across better if a school is seen to become more permissive than more restrictive. In the long run, preventing visitors from posting comments on your page defeats the whole purpose of Facebook.

Unlike personal Facebook pages, neither fans nor administrators should be able to tag a person’s picture as this could put them at risk.

Facebook also has the capability to block certain people, language or other unwanted content. You can for example set up a list of words of phrases that cannot be mentioned on a Facebook page. Facebook has an email notification system so that your administrator is aware ASAP of any posts or comments made on their Facebook page.

If you're managing a Twitter account for the school, you similarly have the ability to be notified whenever someone mentions the school. If you receive malicious or inappropriate messages from other users, you have the ability to block their account or report them for spam or abusive behaviour.

Internet safety will always be a primary concern for schools but this should not scare you away from social media. Provided you set out clear guidelines for your staff, stick to public social media channels, and have security settings that protect your pupils, you will soon wonder how you managed without it!

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