Online bullying has become increasingly common, and not just for individuals. While you might assume that online bullying is mostly something that takes place in the lives of high school students, the reality is, bullies lurk around every corner of the internet. As a business, you must be proactive about protecting yourself and your audience from cyberbullying or risk the possibility of being caught up in legal action.
The Rise of Bullying in Education
Increasingly, bullies in school aren’t just the kids and teens. Instead, they’re the parents.
Nearly 2/3 teachers have experienced some form of bullying from the parents of the children they work with every day: verbal threats, yelling, or even physical intimidation. The problem has become so widespread that Victoria has launched the Independent Office for School Dispute Resolution to resolve disputes between parents and education institutions.
While it’s understandable that we all want the best for our children and want to provide them with every opportunity to succeed, many educators find that parents are taking protecting their children too far. Rather than speaking with educators directly to find a constructive solution when their child receives a poor mark or fails to complete an assigned task, some parents go straight over their heads, contacting principals or other higher-ups in an attempt to call out a teacher. Other educators have been confronted by hostile parents or found themselves subject to gossip online.
In one notable case, the principal of a highly regarded Queensland school was temporarily suspended. Parents who were interested in seeing her reinstated put together an online petition singing her praises. Unfortunately, not everyone was so kind.
Some parents made highly negative or false comments about the principal via Facebook, taking their comments well outside the realm of free speech and into the realm of character defamation. The principal herself was later cleared of any wrongdoing and reinstated, but the damage was done and she filed a lawsuit against several of the parents, eventually being awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.
Even students can find themselves at the centre of legal battles, as one NSW high school student discovered when his remarks about his new music teacher on Twitter and Facebook saw him ordered to pay $105,000 for spreading ‘evil lies’.
As social media use ramps up within the community – as of 2018, 88% Australians use social media – so too do instances of online bullying. This leads to the question – how much responsibility does your business bear when it comes to defamation?
Are You Liable?
According to a recent high-court ruling, your business bears full responsibility for the comments posted to your social media pages – that means that if someone is bullied on your page, you may face the legal consequences. While this ruling is subject to heavy debate and scrutiny, it highlights the need for organisations to pay careful attention to the conversations taking place on your social media pages, and to take steps to protect yourself.
Remember that comments are able to be edited on most social media platforms, and can be deleted at a moment’s notice, so relying on screenshots that don’t reveal the full context of a conversation may not protect you or work in your favour in the event of legal action.
Supporting the Safe Use of Social Media
Negativity on social media is affecting mental health, particularly for younger users, with a 2019 headspace survey revealing that 62% of people aged 12-25 agreed the mental health of young people is getting worse.
But what is the solution? Giving young people access to social media may increase risks of online bullying, but preventing your child from using it may lead to them being socially ostracised. Schools and businesses young people frequently interact with need to have clear social media guidelines and social media archiving to ensure all comments and posts are accurately recorded to best support the safety of young people.
The first step towards online safety is keeping an eye on social media interactions and setting guidelines in place, which can help protect against depression, anxiety, and other negative effects of excess social media use. Here are a few tips for creating the safest possible environment for your audience and minimising your organisational risk in the process:
Create clear social media guidelines.
School social media pages in particular must have clear guidelines in place that describe how users are expected to behave when interacting within that space. These guidelines should include:
- Warnings against bullying, including defamatory speech, hate speech, and negative comments against users.
- Information about recognising predatory or inappropriate behaviour.
- Language parameters that prevent your users from cursing or using inappropriate language on the site. This is particularly important for sites that offer access to younger children.
Put moderators in place to help keep an eye on comments.
Students, parents, disgruntled customers and employees alike are most likely to flood social media pages with comments outside of work or school hours, when they have more time to be on social media. As a result, you must have moderators in place who will keep track of what is happening on your social media platforms. In addition to physical moderators, who can understand the context of a scenario, consider using programs that can help sort through comments and flag anything inappropriate. This can help add a layer of protection even when your moderators are not physically online.
Ensure you have clearly stated hours of moderation (e.g. this page will be monitored between the hours of 8am – 5pm) – this will help avoid people sending multiple messages to your inbox at 8pm, getting more negative as they feel they’re being ignored.
Things can blow up on social media pages in what feels like the blink of an eye, and if you don’t have moderators in place to deal with it, things may get out of control faster than you realise.
Enact consequences immediately when guidelines are not followed.
On some occasions, there is room for a certain degree of lenience: a slip that uses an inappropriate word, for example. In the case of cyberbullying, however, your response must be swift. Violators should be banned immediately to decrease the likelihood of future problems. A record of the offensive post should be kept as a reference should you be questioned on the decision to block a user.
Use an archiving program.
A social media archiving program like Brolly can keep track of all of those important interactions on social media. Brolly keeps all of your social media interactions in once place, which can be incredibly valuable if you later need to provide evidence in a legal case, or need to justify why someone has been blocked from your page. Brolly also makes it simple to search through those archives so that you can easily access exactly the data you need from every social media interaction.
Design a positive environment.
You may not be able to control every comment made on your social media pages, but you can create a positive, uplifting environment designed to benefit parents, students, and educators. Create positive posts. Focus on positive aspects of events. Encourage students and parents to join you in that campaign for positive thinking. As you create a warmer environment, you may find that the likelihood of bullying decreases.
Are you ready to start taking steps to protect your business against the potential legal repercussions of cyberbullying? Brolly can help! Our social media archiving programs are designed specifically for a variety of industries, including the education industry. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help track your social media interactions.