Do you know who's looking at that picture on your wall?

4th May 2012 at 01:00
Teachers should be aware of the dangers of `misuse' of social media sites

It may seem trite to some to suggest anyone who teaches shouldn't post anything on social media sites that they would be uncomfortable publishing in a newspaper. However, it is clear from recent headlines and court decisions that this is one lesson some teachers are struggling to learn.

You can never be sure who is looking at what you post on social media sites. What you can be certain of, however, is that behaving appropriately online matters, even when you think you are "off duty". The consequences of getting it wrong and posting ill-considered commentspictures on these sites are serious, especially for teachers, whose careers could be left in tatters by an inappropriate remark or picture.

Over the past year employment tribunals have sent out clear warnings to all employees about their use of social media. Increasingly, we are seeing reports of tribunals finding that dismissals connected to an employee's "misuse" of social media sites are fair - even where the individual in question has set their privacy settings so that only friends can view their posts.

Put simply, if these comments have the potential to damage your employer's reputation, undermine your position of responsibility as a teacher or indeed your fitness to teach, any arguments that you make about the comments being private or intended only to titillate your friends will likely fall on deaf ears.

GTC Scotland has published guidelines for teachers and education professionals on the appropriate use of electronic communications. In addition, it has recently issued a student teacher code which refers specifically to social media use. The fact is that, even though the GTCS's professional standards do not apply to student teachers, registration requires that they be deemed fit to teach.

Many educational institutes have their own guidelines. Having a well- communicated policy or guidance in place is an absolute necessity. If you work in the education sector and use social media sites, it is important to bear in mind the following basic advice:

- You have a position of responsibility. This needs to be mirrored in your online activities.

- Read the guidelines relating to social media that your employer has in place.

- Do not rant about your workplace, pupils, parents or colleagues or publish photographs that might show you or them in a poor light.

- Choose your friends carefully. There is always the risk of innocent comments being misconstrued or misinterpreted.

- Set your privacy settings to the highest possible level. It's amazing how many people think their page is more private than it actually is.

Andrew McConnell, Employment lawyer, is an associate in the employment team of Brodies solicitors.

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