Protecting Teachers Online

At the present time the UK government, so alarmed at the dangers coming from the online world are planning on sweeping snooping powers that would allow the state to capture and monitor every email, text message and website use as part of a scheme that they cannot even say what benefits it would bring nor provide any reasons for it.

These proposals are an extreme over-reaction to many existing problems but what is needed is better safety online for people – not the end of freedom of thought or expression online.

Such networks are used by many to keep in touch, to get in touch and to share life events, movies, images and as I mentioned previously – as a huge opportunity for learning.

Regrettably, as Elish Angiolini said yesterday, they can also be used for hatred.

However, where we draw the line online is becoming an evermore nuanced question. For social networking undoubtedly played a significant part in the Arab Spring – helping people to educate, agitate and organise in the name of democracy yet, to many teachers and schools it has been a major bone of contention.

Though, it seems to have slowly died a death – can folks remember the famed ‘Rate my Teacher’ website? Where pupils after having been on the receiving end of a ‘telling’ could anonymously log on and then berate the adult who had the audacity to want to teach them maths. That site has fallen in popularity as people not just the young have access to an array of social networks including:

facebook, twitter, google plus, pinterest, twitpic, ping, BBM, youtube, digg…the list goes on and on…as do the possibilities for staff in schools to be abused.

Such cases are increasingly becoming part our work in defending and protecting members.

In a recent interview for the BBC’s Newsbeat a teacher claimed to have been forced to quit her first teaching job due to cyberbullying by pupils who made up allegations and spread stories about her online.

Recently also, a school rep approached me for advice when pupils had been caught taking images of teachers and using them to superimpose the teacher’s face on another and much more inappropriate image.

In this case, the culprits were caught the images deleted and parents informed. But congress, I’m not so sure that in all schools or in all local authorities there is sufficient support and protection for staff that are treated in this way.

Mostly, as far as I can tell the focus of councils has been to prevent staff from utilising the online world to criticise their employer – not responding to cyberbullying. This motion seeks to redress that and calls on all councils to ensure that staff are protected from abuse – from preventing it occurring and in dealing with it when it does.

Now Facebook and other social networks have made many changes that allow people to immediately flag up inappropriate content. This has been due to governmental pressure and pressure from groups concerned at the potential for abuse of children. However, there is much deeper concern with regard to facebook and others.

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

Facebook is about to launch itself onto the stock market in what may be the fourth biggest stock flotation in history with estimates valuing the company at $100 billion dollars.

It, along with google makes its money through targeting adverts at you based upon data it gathers about you. It needs therefore to have its users share as much as possible about themselves to draw more advertising revenue.

Of particular concern is the routine changing of privacy settings on websites that render what was once private – more open and available to onlookers.

The GTCS guidelines seek to help staff protect themselves from online abuse, from breaking their employers policies and potentially facing discipline through sensible advice and sensible precautions because increasingly here teachers (and others) have come a cropper by posting items online that they thought were just being seen by friends but in actual fact were available to all.

The GTCS are to be commended for being realistic – there is no point bolting the stable door on social networking – it’s too late. The reason why facebook is ‘worth $100bn – is that it has almost 900 million users – with a huge proportion of them being the pupils in our schools.

This issue affects not only teachers but pupils too and it’s a fundamental reason why blocking social media is not the answer.
Blocking hides away the potential for educating responsible usage

Congress

We must ensure that our members are protected from abuse online and the only way that will be done is by promoting responsible online behaviour that respects people even if they disagree with them. Since this noble idea is but an ideal, in the meantime, our employers must protect us from abuse when it does occur and must advise staff on how to stay safe.

Safety online doesn’t mean censorship online, nor does it mean tracking every email, facebook message or tweet. It doesn’t mean closing off the internet because to be safe online we don’t need to regulate the internet, we require to regulate our children or rather their parents.

As the Guardian’s technology editor Charles Arthur recently wrote:

“Frankly, I’m amazed by the tales of parents who let their children have TVs or computers in their bedroom. First of all, it’s like telling them not to socialise with you; and it’s by socialisation that we work out what we do and don’t accept as sensual, and sexual, and pornographic (and where the line lies). Watching TV together means you can discuss what you’re watching. Having computers in shared spaces (effectively banning solitary use), using the filtering systems that they have built in – these are solutions that work. They don’t need legislation; they don’t need complicated filters that will be routed around in a flash… they just need to be part of the family. You can’t turn off the internet, nor make its denizens respectable. You can, however, turn off the computer, or explain respectability to your child.”

Congress, It falls to us, as an association to protect our members and therefore it makes sense for to create user-friendly guidance for them on how to behave online and be protected too.

Please support the motion.

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