Teacher subject of Facebook 'abuse'

SARAH DUNN
Last updated 13:00 27/08/2012

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Waimea College has revealed details of pupils targeting a teacher online. This comes after the Law Commission recommended last week that the government enforce tighter control over cyber-bullying offences.

The legislation included a proposal to set up a Communications Tribunal which could unmask anonymous offenders and force people to remove offensive content from websites. The commission also sought to criminalise posting "intimate visual recordings" of another person without their permission, and encouraging somebody to commit suicide.

Waimea College associate principal Graeme Smith said that in the last two months, the school had heard of a picture circulating on Facebook of a Waimea teacher. The photo had been taken during class and “doctored” with an image-manipulation program like Photoshop before being uploaded. Comments were enabled.

“If a teacher had done that to a student and the Teachers' Council was notified, that teacher would risk being deregistered,” said Mr Smith. “It's major abuse. What comeback has a teacher got when it's reversed?”

Now that the picture had been “shared” to multiple people on Facebook, it was impossible to halt its spread, he said.

“Regardless of whether there's one or 50 [uploaders], they share it, so now it's mega.”

Mr Smith said that to protect himself from a similar fate he did not allow his own picture to be taken at the school by professional or student photographers.

“I trust 99 per cent of Waimea students because we've got such good kids here, but it only takes one photo.”

The school was “still deciding” how to deal with the offending students, who had been identified.

Mr Smith said Waimea College received about five complaints concerning cyber-bullying each year, treating them “just like a normal bullying issue”.

Since most of the problems occurred at night, during school holidays and otherwise outside school hours, Mr Smith officially considered the problem “nothing to do with the school” but chose to follow up complaints to keep conflicts begun on social media from “spilling over” into school hours.

He identified Facebook and text as the main platforms for abusive messages, but said the nature of these platforms sometimes made it easier for schools to catch bullies.

“What teenagers forget is that everything is saved.

"This generation is going to have their actions come back and bite them. They think they've deleted everything, but they haven't.”

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The school's head of information and communications technology (ICT), Paul Crofskey, said students could access social media through their smartphones even though Waimea banned Facebook from school computers.

“Kids are autonomous in their ICT,” he said.

He said teachers needed to have “pretty thick skins” to cope with the demands of regular teaching, but cyber-bullying could have a “sharp edge to cut that skin”.

Commenting on the picture of a Waimea teacher which was shared on Facebook, Mr Crofskey said nobody was immune to online harassment.

“When you don't think like that because it's not your medium, these things can be quite surprising”.

Mr Crofskey said it was important that lawmaking stayed abreast of current trends and technology.

“When we get disjointed, then you can't really apply it.”

- The Nelson Mail

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