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  • Writer's pictureSarah

TikTok Timebomb?

Teachers have reported that they are being subjected to harassment through social media and consequently it has caused them to be signed off unfit for work.

Students are posting footage of learning resources and a history teacher, Mr Rogers from an undisclosed school, reported that a clip from his virtual lesson was uploaded to TikTok and that he only became aware of this, as a colleague alerted him to the post.

Mr Rogers then searched the platform and found there was two videos posted from an anonymous account. The videos had received a combined viewing of 12,000 people.

Tom Quinn, a headteacher and chief executive of the Frank Field Education Trust in the North West of England and West Midlands said,

"When a child posts defamatory remarks, or humiliating remarks, on TikTok,

it can be seen by up to two million people across the world. That has a

really big impact when there is crucially no right to reply for the teacher."

ASCL have stated that they have received more than 50 reports of "disgraceful abuse" and they believe there will be many more instances.

TikTok have advised that they are taking extra measures to remove videos targeting teachers and the government have also got plans to introduce laws to make social-media companies more accountable, but what can you do when an incident occurs, in the absence of reform?

Identifiable posts

Where possible identify where the post originated from and then manage the student through the school's Behaviour Policy. This is on the proviso that the policy covers this particular aspect, and that the students are aware and understand the school’s position on posting comments on social media that are derogatory or disrespectful.

The first potential action would be one of defamation, but in order for this to be the case, the content of the post needs to meet certain criteria, as outlined below:

  • was it first published within previous 12 months;

  • lowers the school/staff member in the estimation of right thinking members of society;

  • has cause, or is likely to cause, serious harm to school/staff member; and

  • is not the truth or honest opinion, nor does it benefit from another of the established defences.

In relation to serious harm, this needs to be measurable, such as a decline in the number of students attending the school that is linked directly to the post, or that the staff member has lost their job as a result, or failed to be appointed to a new role because of the posted comments, which results in a quantifiable financial loss. Although this may be difficult to determine.

Another possibility is one of harassment, for this there needs to be at least two instances of harassment, where the individual feels serious distress and alarm, usually associated with physical violence. Where the originator of the post determines it to be in 'jest', but the staff member interprets it as a threat, then the recipients perspective determines the position and response. However, the ability to bring a successful claim is low.

Anonymous posts

For anonymous posts, these can be managed through the TikTok app, by reporting the concern and if TikTok consider it to be inappropriate, it will be removed.

However, most social media platforms are protected by laws, which do not make them liable for content and therefore pursuing any action against TikTok, is unlikely to be successful.

Another option would be to report the matter to the police and they could require TikTok to provide the information of the poster for the purpose of protection. This is more likely to occur in cases whereby the teacher is subjected to comments or judgements regarding their sexuality, race or another protected characteristic.

Social media plays such a significant role in our society, whether it be as a means of maintaining contact with old friends, networking with colleagues, utilising it for marketing purposes, being up to date with current affairs, following celebrities for the latest trends or getting updates on you favourite TV show. However there is certainly a dark side to social media, in that it allows persecutors to create a popular following without accountability and without consideration for the implications of their actions on their victims.

The Online Safety Bill is currently going through Parliament to consider the safety of individuals using online services. The bill is also seeking to protect those that are harmed by ‘user to user services’ (where services allow users to generate, upload and share content with other users).

The focus will be on service providers having a duty of care to adults who could be significantly harmed (physically or psychologically) from posted content. Providers will be required to create reporting functions and complaints procedures that can be used by individuals who wish to challenge the content online. In addition, they will be required to specify in their Terms of Service how users are protected from unwarranted infringements of privacy.

This development in the law surrounding social media is welcomed and is a positive step, but will it be enough to deter persecutors from using social media as a means of ridicule and abuse?

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