Teachers become victims of online bullying [edexec.co.uk, 15/8/2011]

Academic calls on schools to give staff more support and protection after study finds many teachers have been victims of cyber-bullying attacks

Teachers are the latest group found to be at risk of cyber-bullying, according to a recent report.

The study by Professor Andy Phippen found several instances where teachers had been targeted for abuse by social media users on websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

One head teacher interviewed for the study said she had a breakdown and was left feeling suicidal.

The headteacher suffered a year of abuse by a parent at her school who used a Google group to post libellous untruths about her and her school. “I eventually had a mini breakdown in the summer holiday, needing an emergency doctor to be called out as I had become suicidal,” she told researchers.

Growing issue

While cyber bullying among children is a well-documented problem, Professor Phippen has uncovered alarming evidence that the trend is spreading to adults.

Researchers surveyed 377 professionals and analysed 35 helpline cases. Of those, 35% said that either they or their colleagues had been subjected to some form of online abuse, ranging from postings on Facebook to campaigns of abuse on Twitter.

Most of the abuse came from pupils, but in 26% of cases parents played a role. The researchers also uncovered cases where parents would abuse pupils using social media.

“Some parents view teachers as fair game for abuse,” Professor Phippen told the Western Morning News. “They use online technologies to hide behind while posting lies and abuse about their chosen victim.

“It seems that, to a subset of the population, the teacher is no longer viewed as someone who should be supported in developing their child’s education, but a person whom it is acceptable to abuse if they dislike what is happening in the classroom.”

He continued: “Given the potential impact of this abuse, we would call on all headteachers and boards of governors to take these matters very seriously and have a zero-tolerance approach to the abuse of their staff. Schools should not be afraid to involve the police.”