#humiliation: pupils target teachers in online ‘pranks’

Concerns over rise in social media scams perpetrated by digitally savvy students
2nd June 2017, 12:00am
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#humiliation: pupils target teachers in online ‘pranks’


A teacher sits nervously in a restaurant, waiting for her blind date to arrive.

She is excited to be finally meeting the good-looking man she’s been enjoying talking to on Tinder. But he doesn’t show.

Unbeknown to her, a pupil photographs the incident and shares it across the school. Soon afterwards, the humiliating photo of the teacher goes viral online.

And it is no coincidence that she’s been spotted. The teacher has been set up. She was always going to be stood up. For the love interest never existed.

The pupil had set up a fake Facebook account of an attractive adult, which he linked to a fake profile on the dating website. Then, once the pair had matched, he struck up a conversation before asking her out.

This is just one example of a growing number of manipulative digital scams being carried out by pupils. And now, according to a leading online safety organisation, more and more teachers are being targeted.

Emma Robertson, co-founder of Digital Awareness UK, an organisation that runs school workshops on internet safety, says online abuse and security violations of teachers is a “growing concern”.

The organisation, which was initially set up to educate children about sexting and cyberbullying, is finding that schools are increasingly asking them to show teachers how best to protect themselves online.

“[It’s] a huge trend recently,” Robertson says. “I’d say in the last year [the number of enquiries involving teachers] has spiked.”

Around 30 per cent of the cases they now come across are about teachers who have been victimised rather than pupil-on-pupil abuse. “It was something that was bit of a shock to us,” she admits.

“In the cases that have almost gone viral in the school, which everybody knows about, a lot of the time teachers will just be really upset and will come to us for one-to-one advice.”

Rising tide of harassment

And in one school, Robertson says, a number of teachers were hit at the same time. A pupil created a fake Facebook account for a female teacher who wasn’t actually on the social media site. They used images from Google to make it look genuine.

Using the fake account, the pupil then sent out friend requests to as many of the teacher’s colleagues as they could find.

Those teachers, unknowingly, granted the pupil full access to their accounts after accepting the request.

The pupil then trawled through Facebook to find their most compromising photos - all the way back to university parties and stag and hen dos. They then printed them off and posted them around the school.

In another case, a teacher was filmed by students while bending over in a classroom. The video was uploaded onto YouTube alongside derogatory comments about her appearance.

“Sadly these are all the sorts of stories that we are dealing with kids doing to each other,” Robertson says. “But when it happens online it is so humiliating and so public - and sometimes so permanent - that it can be hugely distressing for those teachers who have been targeted.”

In October last year, a teacher used the Tes community forums to reveal how pupils had used their mobiles to take “up-skirt” photos of her, which prompted warnings from union leaders who said teachers were being subjected to a rising tide of sexual harassment in the classroom.

A snap poll conducted by Tes suggests that more than one in 10 teachers (13 per cent) have suffered from online abuse or cyber bullying by their pupils.

The problem is even worse according a recent survey from the NASUWT teaching union, which found that almost a third of teachers had suffered online harassment and victimisation in the past year.

And the union’s poll in April of more than 1,500 teachers found that in the majority of cases (60 per cent) pupils were the culprits of the abuse - which included taking pictures and videos of individual teachers without those teachers’ consent.

‘A very traumatic experience’

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, says: “Too many teachers are being subjected to appalling levels of online harassment and victimisation from pupils and also parents.

“This has to stop. Being a victim of online abuse can be a very traumatic experience, which can potentially ruin lives and careers.”

She argues that schools need to do more. The survey revealed that even when such abuse was reported, no follow-up action was taken in 45 per cent of cases and 38 per cent of teachers felt it was necessary to stop using personal social media accounts because of their concerns.

“By and large, teachers are getting no support from employers, the police or social media providers to address this, while pupils’ ability to make, view and share inappropriate online content seems to continue virtually unabated,” she says.

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, says schools do take the problem seriously.

“Online ‘pranks’ are extremely distressing and schools take robust disciplinary action against any student responsible for such behaviour,” he says.

Barton continues: “Teaching is already a challenging job and it is being made more difficult because teachers now have to be conscious of the danger of being targeted online.

“We recommend that everyone takes active steps to protect themselves and we have issued guidance to our members on digital safety.”

Digital Awareness UK has been working with HMC (the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference) - the grouping of elite independent schools - to train teachers in order to ensure that preventative measures are in place to protect everyone in schools from online abuse.

And some schools are hosting events and conferences on digital safety to tackle what is becoming a growing concern.

Robertson insists that there are many things schools can do to reduce the risks of staff being targeted. But she admits that even she could be tripped up by some of the savvier scams.

“There are always going to be ways that you can be targeted even with the best possible settings and passwords in place,” she says.

“But it is about teachers having awareness that there are steps they can take to mitigate against risks.”

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