"Social networking is about building people up in your network NOT tearing them down" ~ Tasha Turner
Last week as I reading my various Twitter streams I came across a few disturbing tweets from an unhappy parent in the school community of a colleague of mine. I decided to click on the user's profile and discovered that almost all the tweets were criticisms of the school and the principal. In my opinion the tweets were bordering on harassment. They were uninformed and seemed to be written to begin an online argument. The account also did not use a real name, they were posting anonymously.
This one-sided conversation on Twitter caused me to question my own belief of the importance of being connected and to use social media as a window into the school and the learning happening everyday. Should this scenario stop administrators, teachers and even schools from being present on various social media platforms? Why would this person take to social media to voice concerns instead of bringing them directly to the school? Could this happen at any school? I still believe it is important for schools and educators to be connected. However it is during times like these that we need to take stock of what is important and be clear in the values we hold strong to.
As the tweets continued I realized this was going to be a learning experience and decided to do a screen capture for future reference. Below are just a couple of the tweets that were sent over the course of a few days. I have left other more personal and inflammatory tweets out and I have blurred out the identities for confidentiality.
From my perspective this was the type of scenario that demonstrates why it is important for schools to be active on social media. My initial reaction was that situations like this is where the school needs to get ahead of the story and to be proactive in communicating their message. But as the tweets got more and more personal, with no response from the principal or the school I was concerned that they were unaware of what was happening. I decided to reach out to the principal to see if she was aware of the story unfolding in the twitterverse. She was unaware and asked for advice. I thought the best advice was to professionally send a tweet asking for the user to call the school to discuss the situation, which she did. However, the advice I thought would end the disparaging tweets actually turned into and increase in frequency of tweets and ones that became more personal. I started to question my advice to her and thought maybe it would have been best to just advise her to ignore the tweets and not engage. I read Twitter's guidelines and it seemed that the only policy the user may have close to violating was the Abusive Behaviour Policy.
At this point I was lost on what to tell her. I'm not a public relations expert nor do I have any experience in media relations. My last advice to her was to block the user so that at the very least her mentions would not turn up in the school timeline or her personal account. I'm still a strong advocate for the use of social media. It's a powerful medium to invite parents and the community into the school. There are so many positive stories out there about the effective use of social media in schools. Social media is not going away anytime soon so it is our job as educators to help students develop an understanding of the impact of their online interactions. It is a chance to develop digital citizenship. I won't lie and say this hasn't given me something to consider. However, I still believe that the actions of a few should not deter schools from delivering their story.
I'm curious as to what you would have done in this situation? What advice would you have given the principal? I'd love to hear your thoughts!