Due to laptop computers, mobile phones, android, Google and Apple i-products, educational institutions need to be at the cutting edge of growing cyber-issues and have appropriate policies and support in place.
Even desktop PC’s in computer rooms which have had internet access and content filters for years are becoming less secure as most students from an early high school age can navigate past those filters through the use of proxy servers. Users with a keen interest in computer subjects are often capable of far greater feats than they are given credit for.
Alex Kohn has written an interesting article titled Criminal Aspects of Cyber Bullying which discusses the duty of care owed by a school to it’s students. Those principles could equally apply to tertiary educational institutions, such as TAFE or Universities. Online social networking issues can equally apply in those settings to teachers and other staff members as a duty of care exists to provide employees with a safe place of work.
Apart from the obligations on staff and students to refrain from using an online forum to bully or harass, they must also refrain from comments that could be seen as defamatory or malicious in relation to other persons or the educational institution as a whole.
The ease in which frustration can be vented electronically to groups of people, sometimes including co-workers, management or the general viewing public, has resulted in increased numbers of employment terminations and student expulsions due to inappropriate and sometimes defamatory comments placed on social network sites.
Complaint prevention rather than cure
While we are regularly instructed to assist with the investigation and resolution of these types of disputes, we also provide advice to clients as to how best to avoid the disputes altogether. Just a few strategies for different circumstances include:
- Implement and regularly update computer/internet/social media policies;
- Provide copies of those policies to staff and students and also display copies in relevant locations such as computer rooms;
- Educate staff and students how to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate communications; and
- Explain how to obtain support from, and make a complaint to, the educational institution itself.
Individual situations will differ but a general culture of awareness around acceptable conduct and complaint procedures can help people to self-monitor their communications and result in early reporting of inappropriate communications. The above strategies can be significant tools in reducing the number and severity of complaints surrounding online social networking.