The dos and don'ts of social media

Laura Higgins, UK Safer Internet Centre, describes some of the do's and don'ts of using social media.


Things move very quickly in the social media world. It's sometimes hard to keep up with developments on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, nevermind the fact that how you engage online can affect your job, or even leave you open to disciplinary action.
The message used to be clear: never accept friend requests from pupils, ex-pupils or their family, and keep your social networking totally separate from work. But now that might not be so easy … how would you manage the following possible scenarios?
  • A cyberbullying incident happens and your school asks you to report it to Facebook.
  • You are asked to moderate the school Facebook page during the summer holidays.
  • Your school decides to use a Facebook group to provide additional coaching to some of your pupils.
  • You become aware of underage Facebook users in your school.
Of course we always suggest that you use privacy settings to ensure your private life stays private, for example Twitter will allow you to lock your tweets. However, in addition, it is essential that you familiarise yourself with your school's social networking policy (if it doesn’t have one it should get one!). Most people who are sacked from their jobs because of online misconduct claim ignorance; I’m afraid that won’t help in a tribunal situation.

Use the tools that are available on each site you use. On Facebook make use of lists so that you can post separately to a “work”, or “students” list. Ensure that any pupils you do add are only able to see those posts that are suitable and relevant. Use the “view as” option on your timeline to check what other people can see.

Consider using a separate Twitter account for school business (with your school's knowledge of course!) and make sure this does not breach any intellectual property rights of the school. Make sure you specify that your tweets are your own and do not represent the view of the school.

General common sense prevails –
  • Don't post anything you wouldn’t want your Headteacher to see, even when you have privacy settings in place.
  • Remember that what you post can be shared more widely than your intended audience, and can be misinterpreted.
  • Don't discuss your school or the staff and pupils at your school online.
  • Don't post images that are inappropriate for pupils to see, or which are harmful to others. Your university graduation pictures may be funny, but probably not suitable for public viewing!
  • Ask your friends to be respectful when “tagging” you in pictures and enable the option to review tags before they appear.
  • Think about your other social networking profiles too; your Line Manager may not appreciate seeing your CV and your “looking for work” requests on LinkedIn.
  • Think about your photo apps, such as Instagram or Keek. If you allow auto-upload, are the images suitable? Consider geo tagging risks as well.
  • And, of course, please do not post images of an adult nature online. They WILL cause you problems at some point.
  • Finally, be a good role model and don’t breach site's community guidelines.
Social networks are an essential tool for maintaining contact with family and friends, job searching and sharing information. You have probably been used to having complete freedom when accessing the internet and it may seem a bit harsh to now have to moderate your online behaviour. But by following these tips it is possible to continue enjoying them without it costing you your career.