Building a Social Media Policy for your school

This blog is 9 of 19 in a series on how to implement an Enterprise 2.0 framework for schools.

1. Introduction

The purpose of this blog is twofold. The first is to highlight the major legal risks to schools as a result of the school’s participation in, and use of Social Media. Extending the first purpose, the second purpose of this blog is to provide a framework of understanding that will help school administrators develop social media use policy.

2. Why have a social media use policy?

From an individual perspective the use of Social Media is ubiquitous. The number of bloggers worldwide now totals approximately 184 million. The number of Facebook users 700 million, and the number of Twitter users totals 75 million. Citing school specific statistics, a recent study from Monash University suggests that 94.9% of school aged children use social media. The amount of use of social media amongst teachers is less clear. If we treat teachers as no different from the general population then we know that social media is being used for personal use. Although teachers are predominantly using social media, to participate in online social networks, there are a rising number of teachers who use social media to formalise their Personal Learning Networks (PLN). The use of social media in the classroom, although sporadic, is also on the rise with individual teachers taking the initiative to leverage social media. Currently Social Media use in your school, is most likely to be the predominant activity conducted daily by both staff and students, for both social and professional related purposes. These activities may be internal or external to your school.

If this sounds like your school, then there are already a number of legal considerations that need to be addressed through policy.  A well designed social media policy is important to control the activities of staff and students using social media sites, regardless of whether they are acting on these sites internally or externally to the school.

3. What is a social media use policy?

A policy on social media use is a document that supplements an employment contract, and is enforceable by the school on its staff. “The aim of a Social Networking Policy is to clearly communicate to the school staff what is acceptable conduct on Social Networking Sites by all employees and contractors of the schools; what conduct is unacceptable and would make and employee liable to dismissal.”

4. What is the current landscape for Social Networking policy?

Of the 49.12% of Australian organisations that have a social networking strategy, only 73% have an active social media policy.  Of the 76.79% of people surveyed, who used social networking sites at work, only 5.08% stated that their employee had amended their work contract to cater for new social media use (Source Roston Carlyle ).

5. Tips for drafting a social media policy in your school

The following considerations should be taken into account when developing a social media policy for your school.

• What is your schools current online and social media environment? What are your future plans for social media use?  Who will be using social media and in what capacity? Do you have web filtering devices that can track social media use by stakeholders in your organization?
• The subsequent social media risk matrix posed by the Social Media Strategy;
• Any industry specific risks posed to the school e.g. teachers and student relationships.

6. Is a Social Media Policy binding on school staff?

The general rule is that an employer cannot regulate the out of hour’s conduct of its staff. However, if the conduct in question is related to the school, then a case may be made that it can. A social media policy, therefore, can be binding on school’s staff provided that all reasonable attempts have been made to bring the Social Media Policy to their attention. The effectiveness of social media policy, therefore, is closely tied to how well all school stakeholders are educated on their legal risks of participation.

7. Considerations for developing Social Media Policy.

There are two major considerations to social media policy development; the first is that social media use requires the creation of content. Implications of this include: classification, ownership, intellectual property and the sustainability of this interactive business model. The second consideration is that online interactive media requires interaction. This raises issues such as governance, risk, consumer protection, and privacy.

Sal Humphreys offers six discourses for social media policy development.

1. Social Media is text, and therefore should follow the traditional methods of policy such as intellectual property, classification and free speech.
2. Social Networking sites are communities therefore corporations, associations, families, or even national laws may apply.
3. Social Network sites contain data and therefore have issues such as “privacy and data protection, surveillance and the aggregation of data”.
4. Social Network sites contain economic and social value. Who therefore owns the innovation?
5. If users are co-creators then should industrial relation laws apply?
6. Social Networking sites are a form of global media and therefore have cross-jurisdictional challenges.

The following considerations, at least, are needed in developing your social media policy: loss and disclosure from confidential information, Tweeting, tagging and status updates, wrongful dismissal, trade mark infringements, misleading and deceptive conduct, discrimination, the organisation’s liability for employee acts of defamation, and reputation risk. School specific considerations as stated by the Queensland College of Teachers will also need to be considered. If you would like to view legal precedents in social media try the following site.

7. What content should your policy address, contain or state?

The following content should be included in your social media policy.

•  Content that addresses those considerations mentioned in Section 6.
• It should highlight that school stakeholders should be limited in the use of Social Media Sites that are not being used as part of staff and students normal learning and / or role;
• Staff should be notified that all Social Media use by staff and students will be monitored whilst at school;
• Staff, students, and contractors who participate in Social Media Sites as part of their role will need to sign a Computer acceptance use, which contains Social Media considerations;
• The Social Media Policy  should provide guidance on acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and bind school stakeholders both during and after work hours;
• School stakeholders should not to bypass various technological measure to protect against viral and malware threats;
• The professional character of a teacher must be maintained at all times, if social media use includes interaction with students, either internally or externally to the school.

8. School activities that should be conducted to support the Social Media use Policy.

The following activities should be conducted to support social media use in your school.

• engaging a social media reputation monitoring service;
• training employees in how to engage effectively in Social Networking Sites and know when to escalate issues to their legal advisers;
• having a system in place to respond to complaints on forums, sites and fan pages; and
• having a documented effective social media strategy in place; and
• having a Containment Plan to deal with a social media crisis.

Example of a Social Media Policy

The major legal risks to your school, due to social media use, have been highlighted in this blog. In this blog I have provided you with the minimum content that should be included as part of any social media policy. Please note that I do not practice in law, and that it is a good idea to consult a legal professional to ensure the effectiveness of your policy.


About whellmuth

Working with the education software industry to build software with standard arhitectures that allows schools to have extensible and well integrated technologies. Member of Software QLD. Member of Microsoft advisory board on cloud computing. My doctorate specialises in Software Architecture in the Education environment. My Master Research specialised in IT change management.
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2 Responses to Building a Social Media Policy for your school

  1. angjer says:

    Hi Wayne, that’s a really well detailed post focusing on educational institutions. Back in my country, there was an bullying incident last year in my secondary school. Apparently, a group of boys physically abused a girl inside an elevator. One of the boys actually recorded the entire incident and uploaded it to YouTube. It was only a matter of time before the video reached most of the local blogs and forums. The school’s reputation took a big hit as a result. The group of boys were either suspended or expelled from school but it was the escalation of the video that did the most damage to the school. From my understanding they never had a social media policy back than so how would the school go about claiming damages in this situation?

  2. Ben says:

    I think you have covered a lot of the required considerations, major concerns or areas for caution in considering and implementing both a social media policy and the use of social media as a curriculum tool. Given that the use of social media is likely to one day parallel and probably exceed the mobile phone as a learning tool, it is imperative that schools take their time in implementing policy before practice. This is strongly supported by the lack of precedent in Australian law in determining liability for schools and individuals in this area.

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