Social media continues to allow many to connect with others anonymously, and this is an increasing concern for educators. Instead of enabling positive interactions with families, school districts continue to struggle to prevent the potential harm to students and staff caused by malicious and even fraudulent accounts on 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 there are missing dedicated verification and reporting processes for K-12 accredited educational institutions on social media lack of platforms is weighing on school districts across the country.
In a survey of school communications and technology professionals, more than 50% of respondents said they were dealing with fake official or bogus accounts posing as their district or organization, while only a third said they were using their organization the various sites could verify social media platforms. Respondents also indicated that 59% of their educational institutions had dealt with accounts that harass, intimidate, or bully students; while 45% dealt with social media platforms that failed to remove reported accounts/posts that harass, intimidate or bully their students.
“We’ve heard from our members how hard school districts are struggling to quickly remove harmful and inaccurate posts and have their official social media accounts verified,” NSPRA Associate Director Mellissa Braham said via email.
“Our survey found that the platforms’ current review and reporting processes simply don’t meet the urgent needs of our K-12 schools,” Braham added. “We are grateful to the platforms that are willing to work with us to find solutions that better support accuracy and safety for our students and their families.”
How would verified accounts help?
Although many of the social media platforms have verification processes for individuals, none currently have a process dedicated to school district social media accounts. NSPRA found that LinkedIn, Metas Facebook and Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube have at least signaled a willingness to find solutions to this problem.
Additionally, neither platform has a specific 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 expressed interest in exploring a solution.
The review could be the first step, but further efforts would need to be made.
“Removing content from social media can often be challenging, and having a verified account may not help school districts in the process,” warned Dr. Stephanie S. Fredrick, NCSP, associate director at the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University of Buffalo.
“Nonetheless, having a verified account could benefit school districts in a number of ways,” Fredrick continued. “Assuming the school shared the verified account’s social media handles with its community, members of the school community would be better able to trust the information shared by the account.”
Such efforts could also prevent community members from following fake accounts that may be sharing harmful or inaccurate information.
“If social media platforms can simplify the process and/or allow all public schools to have a verified account – which I believe they should – it could certainly help expose members of the school community to harmful and inaccurate posts from impersonation accounts.” become,” said Frederick.
It’s easy to understand why school districts are so overwhelmed by these problems, and unfortunately there is no easy solution. Fredrick suggested that school districts should perhaps make very clear to students, families and other members of the school community what social media etiquette is – and share that information at the beginning of each school year.
“Social media account security should be a top priority for schools, and there should be a person or committee dedicated to maintaining account security,” she added. “Teach and encourage students, educators and families to immediately report any posts that they deem harmful or inaccurate to school officials as well as the social media platform.”
Addressing all forms of cyberbullying may also require additional discussions with students and their parents.
“Since impersonation accounts in schools can often be students themselves, you should teach digital citizenship skills early and often to prevent these types of risky online behaviors when students start gaining access to social media,” Fredrick said adding that there may be a need to “provide ongoing training for families about young people’s behavior online and appropriate parental supervision.”