Stopping students from harming themselves and others
Violence among students and self-harm can be difficult topics for educators to discuss. No one wants to see students harass, bully or otherwise antagonize each other or hurt themselves because of such behavior. These serious problems were made more prevalent during the rise of the Internet in general and of social media in particular, as they masked risky and dangerous behaviors even when they happened on school property and during school time. However, the expression of such behaviors on social media may also help administrators and educators, provided they have the right monitoring tools in place.
Tapping into a mostly unregulated digital world
While many social networks have policies related to objectionable conduct and harassment, they mostly rely on the person experiencing the abuse to make reports in all but the most egregious incidents. Issues of self-harm displayed on social media are also difficult to document unless someone else makes the first move and places a report. More confounding is the lack of total response: While these
“Schools with a with a monitoring program in place are in better position to avert serious incidents.”
networks will act when conduct breaks site rules, they usually lack the resources to notify family members or authorities. The relatively recent popularity of networks that emphasize anonymity and time-limited content, like Snapchat, have made the problem even more complex.
For school boards, educators and administrators increased visibility into potentially dangerous or harmful behavior could come from social media monitoring software and similar solutions. Schools that create a record of what’s posted on social media or entered into the text field of web searches and instant messenger clients have two major advantages. They develop documentation of cyberbullying, harassment, self-harm and other risky behavior involving students, and they can more easily and quickly identify such problems. With the right solution, training, and approach, schools with a monitoring program in place are in better position to avert potentially serious incidents before they occur.
A somber example
The case of Amanda Todd, a Canadian high-school student who committed suicide after she was manipulated by a yet-unconfirmed assailant or assailants into exposing herself on a webcam, then bullied severely by classmates, is an incredibly sad story. Beyond the serious issues with cyberbullying and in-person violence and harassment from fellow students, the BBC highlighted the potentially international source of her initial abuse and coercion. The time between when the abuse started and Todd’s death – more than a year – is also especially concerning. Sadder still is Todd’s attempt to reach out and share the reality of her life – an untenable situation to her at that point – via an incredibly poignant, if graphic, a video posted on YouTube, as reported in an article from ABC News published shortly after the incident occurred.
What can educators and administrators do?
The Amanda Todd case offers some insight into cyber bullying and harassment, despite its incredibly sad arc. Todd’s continued experience of bullying both online and in person is one area on which school staff can draw insight. Without context, a small number physical incidents between students may not seem like harassment. That’s especially true when the same students aren’t involved in each one. With the additional knowledge provided by social media monitoring, however, school staff are more apt to recognize patterns of abuse and correctly define a series of incidents as harassment instead of a one-off fight or argument gone wrong. A complete picture of a potentially dangerous situation provided by monitoring social network posts, instant messenger chats, and web searches can empower administrators and educators to act sooner and with more confidence, ultimately improving safety for students.