Should teachers use social media anonymously?
In the past, your medical and employment records would have remained hidden in filing cabinets for decades. Yet, in today’s society most will now have a digital footprint available in some form. How true is this for our general use of social media?
“You may not have thought about what will happen to your digital accounts such as your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts when you die, however this is becoming more relevant in an increasingly digital world.” (Death and your digital footprint)
What will be your digital legacy after you die? What about your digital footprint whilst you are still living and breathing?
How does the latter impact on your current employment prospects?
There are very few schools today, that would not conduct an online ‘initial search of a potential candidate’ before interview, or at least prior to appointment. I know for two reasons. The first being two years ago, when I attended 6 interviews for deputy head teacher. At least 50% of schools/head teachers referenced my online identity (in a search engine) before, or on arrival to an interview. One headteacher even used their search (of me) in their opening greeting to me in front of other candidates! I was taken aback, not by their want of searching, but by the openness of their findings in front of other candidates.
The second reason would be as a school middle or senior leader on a short-listing panel.
All school leaders I have worked with, are encouraged by the head teacher to ‘skim’ social media platforms to cross-reference applications, particularly those who are long-listed. This may not be common-practice in all schools, but is something that is encouraged in a safeguarding recruitment process. It would be very surprising to think that any teacher were unaware of ‘the potential to be searched’ when submitting any application.
Searching online is useful strategy when deciding ‘what school a teacher would want to work in’. Why on earth would a school choose not to do the same about a potential employee? There is too much at stake when dealing with the lives of children.
If a school makes this clear in their recruitment process, and most schools do with their ‘safer recruitment disclaimer’ in adverts, the applicant has no reason to question the process in addition to the standard DBS checks. A decision may not rest on any evidence, but if something unsavoury or untoward is displayed for all to see, it would likely be the final ‘nail in the coffin’ for that individual case. In some circumstances, a closer inspection may also flag up safeguarding issues for unprotected accounts which may display inappropriate content.
Teachers should uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school. (Teachers’ Standards, England.)
The question here is, should teachers use social media anonymously?
In this post I present reasons for and against anonymity of teachers who use social media.
Firstly, there is a difference between anonymity for whistle blowing or satire, versus anonymity for trolling.
In our current media climate, the words troll and trolling appear to pop up most regularly when describing destructive behaviours or states (copyright trolls, patent trolls, cyber-bullying trolls). When encountering my first net troll, I didn’t immediately frame them as evil – to me, they were simply an attention-seeking individual with obvious, and potentially serious, issues. (The problems with anonymous trolls and accountability in the digital age.)
“Teachers must have proper and professional regard for the ethos, policies and practices of the school in which they teach, and maintain high standards in their own attendance and punctuality.” (Teachers’ Standards, England.)
So, if teachers by default have ‘proper and professional regard’, why be anonymous if one has nothing to hide?
I am in support of teacher anonymity, particularly to encourage teachers to expose poor practice, to discuss issues such as poor line-management and decisions that have been made by colleagues and schools that are bordering on bullying or constructive dismissal. Obviously, these are few and far between examples, but sadly, not unheard of in schools.
Whether negative or constructive, most trolls operate under a cloak of anonymity. This anonymity affords them the ability to engage with others (adversely or beneficially) without the hindrance of a definable identity: combine this with the significant freedom of expression that anonymity produces, and that’s one highly volatile mix.” (Do not feed the trolls: Anonymity and free speech.)
Reading bad news from the front-line is of course, saddening, but this also provides a reality-check of the conditions in which teachers work. In this case, there is a place for anonymity to help shape government policy and expose shameful examples of practice in school. This ensures we all keep our heads out of the sand and address what really does go on in schools. Without honesty, we cannot improve.
Here are some reasons ‘for’ anonymity:
- provoke or challenge dialogue in all aspects of education
- expose bad ideas
- provide instantaneous (and often fleeting) online interactions, with outbursts of emotion
- post content that demands feedback. Often an anonymous blog warrants the attention it craves
- work safely online in terms of your own public persona
- a good starting point for those new to social media, sharing ideas in a professional capacity.
There is one disclaimer: remember, everything you say or do is archived on the web. Is there anything you do, that could hinder your future employment prospects?
It has been interesting to see a tiny number of anonymous teachers, come out from behind their keyboards into transparency. With a few enjoying new-found social media acclaim and financial reward, writing and some now appearing at educational conferences! It’s good to see that transparency – against anonymity – is the way forward for everyone.
I cannot think of many teachers who would support anonymity in order to direct abuse at an individual.
For example, to attack their work or views of colleagues who share freely online for the greater good. For the vast majority of people I follow online – or the folk that follow me – almost everyone I interact with is someone I know digitally or physically. In digital examples, these relationships are formed on the basis of ‘word-of-mouth’ recommendations from trusted sources, or observing from a distance over a long period of time before making a digital-connection.
Social media can act to condense and compress real-time communication rules to the extent that an individual feels like they operate in a place where no rules apply.” (What lurks behind Trolldom)
Here are some reasons ‘against’ anonymity:
- share best practice, dispel a few myths about teaching and offer support and challenge
- views expressed are thoughtful, measured responses
- demonstrate high standards of personal and professional conduct.
- uphold public trust in the profession
- show tolerance of and respect for the rights of others
- transparent feedback loops avoid narcissistic and egotistical behaviour
- seek feedback and critique
- show impartiality.
Ad hominem derives from Latin: “to the man” or “to the person” which in short, is attacking the person not the argument they are making.
In the majority of arguments conducted online – to think that anyone could argue with someone else on Twitter using 140 characters – most disagreement takes an ‘Ad Hominem’ stance (of an argument or reaction) directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining. This blog would be a perfect example if readers attacked me rather than the balanced argument I am trying to put across.
From the moment I started using social media – to tweet and to blog – I made the conscious decision to keep my thoughts open and transparent. There have been times along the way, where I have had my thoughts commented on by colleagues and head teachers – once pulled into a senior teacher’s office for ‘a chat’ regarding a blog which had to be edited – for positive and negative reasons. Each time, the reality of blogging and tweeting from personal devices, from the comfort of one’s home, has triggered a ‘wake-up call’ that colleagues will read your work and that you will walk past them on the corridor.
In all the cases when I write online, promoting the need for teachers to avoid taking an anonymous stance when using social media, I am attacked rather than the idea itself. We are all adults. We are professionals and we can all make our own decisions as to what works best for us.
In my popular 10 Tips for Tweeting Teachers post, I suggest that teachers ‘create a professional account for tweeting about teaching’. I then encourage users to ‘define a purpose for your (blog or) Twitter account’ before creating it. To be anonymous or transparent is the individual’s decision. To do either or, one must decide then if the account settings will be locked or open.
In my final piece of social media advice, do not feed the trolls: it may seem simplistic, but in the majority of cases, it seems to work. Even better, to “employ a Cognitive Therapy Approach – behaviours that cannot be controlled – or get used to blocking.”
Either way, teachers have to decide what’s best for them in their professional capacity.