And the floodgates opened…

A couple of weeks ago I spotted a Tweet in which I was interested. It contained a reference to a blog describing a visit to a school. Of course I read with interest – I have visited and worked with schools all over the country and continue to do so – albeit and very much from choice and family commitments – on a reduced scale. The blog started well enough and quite rightly praised what the writer saw as the good things in the school they had visited. But it took an interesting turn. Many of you will know what I am referring to. I gave what I was confident was sound advice to an NQT about how to conduct himself/herself professionally  on-line in order to protect him/her from giving too much information that would allow him/her and their current school to be identified. And the floodgates opened…

I have long felt that Twitter was becoming increasingly adversarial but I guess like so many others it was only when it got to me that I realised how much.

I found myself at the receiving end of some very unpleasant on-line abuse both on Twitter and subsequently on a well read blog.

I will not rehearse what happened next. Many of you are aware of this.

Of course it was hurtful and of course I wanted to reply and defend my actions but as I used to say to NQTs and trainees – remember you are the adult in the room! I needed to be emotionally strong and professionally mature.

The consequences of deciding to follow through my concerns have resulted in a rapid learning spurt. It has taken me time, energy and tenacity. But it has been well worth it. I am fortunate that I have that time and that tenacity. But for those who don’t – and I hope this doesn’t sound pompous or patronising – I believe it is worth sharing what I have learnt. Bear in mind. I am not a lawyer so please do not treat this as the definitive version of what to do if you find yourself in a similar situation. It is just one person’s attempts to shed some light on an area that is, from discussions I have had of late, causing quite some concern. The research I have done and the guidance that I am about to share are aimed at everyone who tweets or blogs; at those who feel they may be the victim of unacceptable comments and at those who may just be feeling that saying something on-line protects them from libel and defamation laws.

There are indisputable points enshrined in law. There are no Twitter “untouchables” or “beyond the law” bloggers. I am sure that many people with far more internet knowledge than me have written better or more on this subject but I am trying to use a language and a context that EduTwitter people will feel comfortable with. My aim is not to make people frightened of tweeting or blogging or to close down anyone’s right to freedom of speech. I am simply saying be careful what you write. It is common sense. Do not abuse people,  do not tell lies about them, make sure you know what you are talking about if you are going to get involved in an on-line discussion or blog. If you are going to retweet someone else’s blog make sure that it does not contain offensive language in the most recent or previous blogs or use such words as “incompetence” about fellow professionals or indeed anyone. And be careful how you describe pupils. They may seem to be anonymous at the time of writing but they are all someone’s son or daughter. Their parents do not send them to school to be written about publicly in derogatory terms.

What goes on-line, stays on-line. I have deliberately not mentioned whether or not you need to inform your employer if you are intending to take legal action. You will need to seek further advice on this from your Trade Union representative or a solicitor. I will not work beyond my comfort zone and risk giving the wrong advice. All I will say is that before entering into the world of EduTwitter it is a good idea to read and understand your employer’s code of professional conduct.

I have had many, many emails and DMs from people about this matter – most of whom I have never met and I have been overwhelmed by kindness and support. One message in particular sticks in my mind.

‘I just know there’s a very dark side to edu twitter sometimes and it’s very worrying what things people say when they think they have anonymity. “Free speech” does not mean “free slander” or “free defamation”‘

I will not name the person except to say that I shall always be grateful to her for her wise words and to many others for taking the time to make contact.

First steps

Stay calm. Do not respond to the abusive comments. Maintain a dignified silence – hard as this may be when you may be feeling a little less than dignified. Do not provoke the abuser or give them more air time. Pull out of the conversation the minute this changes from being a contentious but perfectly acceptable debate to abuse or threats against you.

Ask yourself if these people, who you have probably never met, would be saying these same things to your face?

Keep screen shots – quick, easy and necessary

Storify your tweets during the period you wish to report or seek legal guidance on – again quick, easy and necessary

Report the matter to Twitter.

At the same time…

If you feel that this abuse/these comments constitute a threat to you that may threaten your reputation or your livelihood contact the Citizens Advice Bureau as soon as you can. They are extremely knowledgeable and will indicate what you could do next. They will not give legal advice. They will advise you if the abuse is likely to be libellous, defamation of character or a hate crime. But they cannot give you a definitive answer. That is not their role.

If it is a hate crime you must contact your local police.

Remember there is a legal definition of a hate crime.

“A hate crime (also known as a bias-motivated crime) is a prejudice-motivated crime, usually violent, which occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her membership (or perceived membership) in a certain social group. … A hate crime law is a law intended to deter bias-motivated violence.”

CAB will advise you on contacting a solicitor.

At this point most people will think “how much is all this going to cost me?” and “how stressful will it be?” The second one I cannot answer at all or indeed the first but the following may help.

There are specialist solicitors on line who are extremely skilled in handling these matters who offer free telephone advice and will then accept to look at your case for a modest fee. But you must know what you want to achieve e.g. that the blogger/tweeter removes the lies or accusations and or issues a public apology. Check out on-line legal experts’ credentials of course. Or see a local solicitor.

You will be given advice by the legal experts on what you need to do next. You can pull out at any point and this may have cost you little or nothing if you seek help on-line or a modest fee, which you can confirm in advance, with a local solicitor.

Make sure you have a full history of the tweets concerned and/or the blog including comments in which you feature. The solicitor will quite rightly go through these forensically. What you have written will also be open to scrutiny.

Before I embarked on any of this I went onto the National Crime Agency website. This provided excellent advice links that confirm that on-line comments in Tweets and Blogs are subject to the same libel law as anything that appears in writing anywhere else.

I joined Twitter to share, to challenge,  to be challenged, to listen, to learn, to change my mind, to laugh… It is a great place to be – just like most workplaces. Let’s keep it welcome for all and to all. Let’s behave as mature professionals who do not go round in gangs. I am more than happy for people to DM me if you feel that you might like to express your views in private.

The best starting point is here – and will answer most of the questions that many of us have been asking. I have cut and pasted below the most important bits of the article just in case anyone has problems with the links. If you do just copy into your browser. It is well worth the effort.

The Risks

Get started…

  • JNever disclose private information when blogging.
  • Remember that what goes online stays online.

See also…

Social Networking

A great way to stay in touch. Make sure it’s safe and secure.

  • Your details could be discovered even if you blog under an assumed name, or anonymously. For example, blogs that are stored outside the EU may not be covered by the same data protection or privacy regulations we enjoy in the UK.
  • You might regret later, something that you blog about. For example, you may lose your job or fail an interview because of embarrassing posts, or upset a friend, relative or loved one.
  • Blogs are subject to libel law. Posting something that is untrue about an individual or organisation could incur serious penalties.
  • Remember – what you post online stays online … anything you post remains in the public domain and accessible indefinitely. Even if you subsequently delete the post, it may have been cached in a search engine or internet archive, or in a company server.
  • You may think you have a small audience, but blogs are public and it is very easy for people to find information on them via search engines.
  • The ‘comment’ feature present on many blogs could be exploited by spammers including links to websites they are promoting, cyber-criminals including links to fraudulent websites, or people using abusive or threatening language.
  • Children unwittingly revealing personal information or posting photographs of themselves.

Safe Blogging

  • If you want your blog to be public, disclose only what you want everyone on the Internet to know. Otherwise, keep your blog private.
  • Periodically review who has access to your site and make changes if necessary.
  • Keep details that identify you only to yourself and trusted people.
  • Do not post confidential information that might be used to steal your identity such as credit card numbers, passport details or home address.
  • Consider using an assumed name if you wish to keep your identity secret for personal safety, political reasons or security of employment.
  • Be careful what information you disclose such as your address, school, place of work or birthday.
  • Be careful about the photos you post as they may reveal things about you that you would rather keep private.
  • Be careful about what private feelings you share in your blog.
  • Be aware of what friends blog about you, or write in comments on your blog, particularly about your personal details and activities.
  • Be cautious about meeting in person someone you only know through blogging.
  • Ensure that children are aware of the dangers of blogging to a public audience.
  • If you are new to blogging, start cautiously. Understand the features of the software you use and how the blogging community (the ‘blogosphere’) works, including how to filter comments.
  • Do not post anything that may cause you embarrassment at a later date.





7 thoughts on “And the floodgates opened…

  1. Carmel. Such a generous thing to do after what has happened to you on Twitter. I cannot thank-you enough for taking the time to write this and explain in clear terms what how social media needs to be handled with care and integrity. Daisyx

  2. Some further points:
    1. If you are blogging/tweeting anonymously then don’t think that gives you the right/protection to say what you like about other people. Don’t call fellow professionals abusers etc.
    2. If someone has tweeted something abusive/libellous/defamatory and asks you to retweet and you do, then you too may be held responsible.
    3. Do not tag people’s employers or other authorities in tweets. If you have concerns then take them up through official channels. Yes, that does mean you may be required to reveal your own identity but if you feel that strongly about something then you should be prepared to do so. The authorities can’t promise to keep your identity confidential but they will try to do so.
    4. Do not be guilty of doxing.
    5. If someone is anonymous and you find out who they are do not tweet their picture/details etc.
    6. If someone is anonymous but has inadvertently revealed some personal details then don’t be tempted to tweet those to the world.
    7. If you don’t like someone then telling others to block that person, constantly tweeting about that person etc may be viewed by that person has harassment.
    8. Remember not everyone you call a troll is one.
    9. Just because you don’t agree with someone doesn’t mean they are far right or fascist. Do not use these terms lightly.
    10. Do not compare schools/institutions to Nazi camps.
    11. Don’t blame the victims. If someone is active on social media then don’t excuse the targeted harassment by thinking/saying they brought it on themselves.
    12. If you disagree with someone do not bring their race/religion etc into it.
    13. Don’t take tweets/blogs etc out of context and use them to harass people.

    1. There are some great points here and so useful for Governors too.My original blog is deliberately broad brush so that I would not be seen to be taking sides. I wonder if some of your points look as if there is a hidden agenda here? e.g.10. 13. 4 mentions doxxing. This is a hugely complex area – it is quite easy and perfectly legal to find out more about a blogger without doxxing if the blog is registered in the UK. I think we have to assume that if we write a blog then we do want people to read it and we cannot really control this. And they may often be interested in finding more blog posts. This is professional curiosity. See what you think and maybe revise a bit. It seems to be almost like the start of your own blog. I look forward to your thoughts. This is not about good people and bad people but about on line legality and etiquette and essentially, and without seeming pious, about treating others as you want to be treated.

      1. No, no hidden agenda 🙂
        Yes, doxing is complex but that is the reason we must all be careful. My blog had started as an anonymous one. Later I made it public but before doing so I deleted few posts I did not now want in the public domain. I won’t go into details here; suffice it to say that we need to respect people’s privacy. Agree with you
        completely that we must treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves.

      2. Hit Done too soon 🙂

        The points I made about anonymous accounts being careful about what they post is, I think, an important one. As I said before anonymity doesn’t give anyone a license to break the law. If laws are broken then it’s a simple matter for the police to figure out who’s behind the account.

  3. Thanks for writing this. After an unnerving experience where something I posted of my child’s, with his permission to response to a tweet, was published elsewhere and his writing and my motives were attacked in ways for which it was never originally intended, I did some research;
    No one has the right to reproduce someone else’s pictures or works with our permission – despite social media rules seeming to claim the opposite on the surface. All journalists know this – bloggers and tweeters need to too.
    Again – a very brave blog. Thanks

  4. Thank you Carmel. Sense and practical help for any educator that finds themselves on the end of trolling and hate crime on Twitter, or other social media platforms.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s