Social media continues to allow many to engage with others anonymously, and this is increasingly a problem for educators. Instead of allowing for positive interaction with families, school districts now continue to struggle to prevent the potential harm to students and staff caused by malicious and even fraudulent accounts on the social platforms.
This month, the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) released the findings of a new report that found that a lack of dedicated verification and reporting processes for federally recognized K-12 education institutions on social media platforms is causing a strain on school districts around the country.
In a survey of school communication and technology professionals, more than 50% of respondents indicated they have dealt with fake-official or mock accounts that impersonate their district or organization, while only a third indicated they were able to get their organization verified on the various social media platforms. Respondents further indicated that among their educational organizations 59% have dealt with accounts that harass, intimidate or bully students; while 45% have dealt with social media platforms not removing reported accounts/posts that harass, intimidate or bully their students.
“We’ve heard from our members how much school districts struggle to get harmful and inaccurate posts taken down quickly and to get their official social media accounts verified,” NSPRA Associate Director Mellissa Braham explained via an email.
“Our survey found that platforms’ current verification and reporting processes simply don’t meet the urgent needs of our K-12 schools,” Braham added. “We’re grateful to those platforms that are willing to work with us to find solutions that will better support accuracy and safety for our students and their families.”
How Would Verified Accounts Help?
Though many of the social media platforms have verification processes for individuals, none currently have a process dedicated to school districts’ social media accounts. NSPRA has found that LinkedIn, Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube have at least indicated a willingness to explore solutions to this problem.
Moreover, none of the platforms have had a dedicated process for school districts to report fraudulent social media accounts or to report posts and accounts that harass, intimidate, bully or otherwise negatively target students. Only YouTube has indicated an interest in exploring a solution.
Verification could be the first step, but other efforts would need to be made.
“Removing content from social media can often be a challenge and having a verified account may not help school districts with this process,” warned Dr. Stephanie S. Fredrick, NCSP, associate director at the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo.
“That being said, having a verified account could be beneficial for school districts in a lot of ways,” Fredrick continued. “Assuming the school has communicated the social media handles of the verified account with their community, school community members would be better able to trust the information being shared from the account.”
Such efforts could also prevent community members from following fake accounts that may share harmful or inaccurate information.
“If social media platforms can make the process easier and/or allow all public schools to have a verified account—which I think they should—(it) could certainly help prevent school community members from being exposed to harmful and inaccurate posts from impersonation accounts,” said Fredrick.
It is easy to see why school districts are so overwhelmed by these problems, and there is unfortunately no simple fix. Fredrick suggested that school districts may need to be very clear with students, families, and other school community members about what the social media handles are – and share this information at the beginning of each academic year.
“The security of social media accounts should be a top priority for schools and there should be a person or committee dedicated to upholding account security,” she added. “Teach and encourage students, educators, and families to report any posts they see as harmful or inaccurate immediately to school officials, as well as to the social media platform.”
Combating all forms of cyber bullying may also require additional conversations with students and their parents.
“Since school impersonation accounts can often be students themselves, teach digital citizenship skills early and often to help prevent this type of online risky behavior when students start to gain access to social media,” said Fredrick, adding, it may be necessary to “provide ongoing training to families about youth online behavior and appropriate parental monitoring.”