A few days ago, a good friend approached me about a difficult situation taking place in her classroom. After noticing that a student had given her a disparaging nickname in an email, she was devastated when she came across numerous mean-spirited, false comments made about her by that student on a social network.
This wasn’t the first time it had happened in her school– but it was the first time it had happened to her, and she wasn’t sure how to bounce back from something that has marred the last few weeks she had with her students this year. What should she do to protect herself from this in the future?
It’s a behavior that has always been there– students have said mean things about teachers behind their backs since the dawn of time. In the age of social media, however, more of those comments are finding their way to to social media networks where students (and even some parents) have gone as far as impersonating their teachers or making false claims that they hope result in an educator being fired.
Major social networks have support pages designed to help individuals being impersonated or targeted for abuse online, but here are a few things you can do to protect yourself from being cyberbulled online:
1) Take screenshots of the offending post.
It’s important to have copies of the offensive material when you first see it– before the student(s) in question have the opportunity to remove it from the social network at hand. Be sure to also get screenshots of any identifying information about the account, including the profile page and any or all photos posted to the account that identify the student in question. In the case of anonymous social apps like YikYak, Secret, Whisper and others, you may not be able to identify the student posting about you online.
Not sure how to take a screenshot? On a Mac, just hit Command + Shift + 4 on your keyboard or use any of these tools to document the abuse from your computer. On a PC , a tool like AwesomeScreenshot (recommended to me via a trusty source on Twitter, who says all teachers should have a screenshot tool) will get the job done. If the posts are made on a mobile-only social network, be sure to look up how to take a screenshot on your mobile device, and be sure to email it to yourself for safekeeping.
2) Save direct links to the posts while they are live.
Even if you’ve taken screenshots to document bad behavior from your students, it’s important to have direct links to the original content if the case has to be followed up or investigated by social networks, administrators, or authorities. On most social networks including Facebook and Twitter, clicking the timestamp where the date and time a post was made appear will give you access to a direct link to the content in question. (In mobile-based social networks, clicking on any button with … will give you a “Share” URL that can be copied.) Once you’ve obtained a direct URL to the post, bookmark it and save it in a file elsewhere for safekeeping. Though the link will not work if the student deletes the content, it is still vital to document the original scene of the crime.
3) Report cases of impersonation and account breaches to administrators and social media networks IMMEDIATELY.
Given the high standards of behavior expected of educators, there is no situation more dangerous to a teacher’s reputation than being impersonated online. Social media sites make it easy to set up a profile, but if you’re the target of this behavior, it can be difficult to prove that an account with your face and your name isn’t you. If you’re being impersonated online, document and report the fake account to the social network immediately. If the account makes comments accusing you or other educators of abuse or inappropriate sexual contact, or any other crime that could severely damage your professional reputation, contact an administrator and go to the authorities immediately. In some cases, a warrant may need to be obtained or papers may need to be served to for a company to release information about login sessions to authorities that clears your name.
Cyberbullying sucks– but the most important thing you can do to protect your online identity, your career and your school culture from this bad online behavior is to document and report it to administration as soon as possible. Are you an educator who has had to deal with a student impersonating you or posting deragatory remarks about you online? Share how you handled the situation in the comments.