The Minister for Education and Welsh Language Jeremy Miles MS has issued the following statement regarding online abuse of teaching professionals on social media:
I am appalled and deeply troubled by the recent trend of targeting teachers and school staff on social media. It is completely unacceptable that teachers are being subjected to explicit, offensive and harmful content online and any such abuse should not be tolerated. Protecting the well-being of staff is of paramount importance and this is even more crucial given the challenging times we are living in.
Where such deplorable abuse is directed towards teachers and schools on social media I recognise that not only does this have a distressing impact on individuals, it can also have significant adverse implications for the education community. That is why, as a matter of priority, I instructed my officials to contact TikTok directly to express my concerns around the considerable distress this is causing teachers and request that any instances of inappropriate or offensive content be removed immediately.
Executives at TikTok have confirmed that they are committed to resolving this matter urgently. I understand that a dedicated trust and safety team has been established and are working at pace to remove and/or ban accounts that have been identified as impersonating schools or posting bullying and harassing content directed towards teachers. TikTok has also confirmed that content moderators are working proactively to identify and remove any new instances of abusive content posted on the platform. My officials will continue to work with TikTok, and keep me updated on this matter.
This trend has been seen right across the UK and it is essential we take a co-ordinated, collaborative and robust approach. As such, we are working closely with the UK Council for Internet Safety, whose members include leading online safety charities, UK Government and devolved nations. My officials will also continue to work with Trade Unions to provide support to them and their members.
Crucially, the UK Safer Internet Centre, have agreed an escalation process with TikTok, to ensure the removal of abusive content reported through the Professionals Online Safety Helpline.
I urge all teachers or school staff who have experienced any instances of online abuse to report these directly to the Professionals Online Safety Helpline.
We have published updated guidance on harmful viral challenges for schools which now includes information related to offensive content directed towards school staff and how to report incidents.
One of the key principles outlined in the guidance is to exercise care and caution to avoid inadvertently promoting, and thereby further encouraging, any harmful viral trend. There is well-documented research that highlights instances where well-meaning coverage from organisations has unintentionally driven up interest in viral trends. As such, I would urge a responsible and careful conversation on this issue and would encourage schools to refer to this guidance.
All schools have a duty of care towards staff members and as such should ensure that any staff experiencing abuse online are supported appropriately. Trade Unions are also an excellent source of support and I would encourage schools to deal with any instances of inappropriate behaviour in accordance with their behaviour policy.
Addressing this behaviour through education is vital to ensure that children and young people understand the importance of being respectful and considerate both online and offline. Last week, during anti-bullying week, the Welsh Government and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner promoted a range of classroom resources available on the Keeping safe online area of Hwb to support conversations around respectful behaviour online. My officials will continue to provide a range of resources, information and guidance that can be used to promote considerate behaviour online and equip young people with skills to use social media responsibly.
While education plays a key role in tackling this behaviour, I am of the firm belief that social media platforms must recognise their responsibility and duty of care to their users and play their part in stamping out online abuse. I welcome the enhanced protections that the forthcoming Online Safety Bill promises to provide and look forward to working with Ofcom to ensure a consistent approach to ultimately provide a safer online experience for all.
I would like to end by reaffirming that no teacher should be subjected to abuse on social media and I would encourage anyone who has been affected to draw upon the support available from your school, Trade Union and the Professionals Online Safety Helpline. Finally, I wish to extend sincere thanks to all those teachers for their continued hard work and dedication to the profession.