Because 92% of US teens are online daily, 24% of them “almost constantly” (Pew Research Center), increasingly, your school community will want to have a social media policy in place. (Don't worry if you don't have one yet – iCanHelpline.org has found few schools have one and Acceptable/Responsible Use Policies (AUPs/RUPs) usually don't cover social media use.) A policy supports positive school climates and restorative responses because people are better prepared when incidents happen, stress levels go down and communication up. Here are some elements to consider in developing, and later implementing, a social media policy:
It takes a team
If your school doesn't have one yet, put together a cross-functional team to develop and implement your policy. Multiple skills and talents are needed, and not just adults’ expertise. Ideally, the team includes:
- An administrator or two (someone in charge of discipline but also of the school’s culture)
- 2-3 student leaders (representing different peer or interest groups, ideally including LGBTQ youth and special ed students, as well as an elected student leader)
- A school psychologist, counselor or social worker
- A prevention/intervention specialist
- A media specialist/librarian and/or network administrator who uses social media (not just network technology or educational technology)
- A teacher, student activities director or adviser (someone students really trust if not one of the above)
- Option to use iCanHelpline.org when social media perspective and content deletion help is needed for cyberbullying, sexting, etc. incidents involving students
- SRO or local law enforcement
- District/school legal counsel (when needed)
- A superintendent, trustee or school board member on call
[Sometimes schools/districts already have a threat assessment, incident response and/or mental health assessment team. If you use an existing team instead of creating a new one, be sure the expertise above is represented.]
What to consider including
(after seeing what Internet- and cellphone-related policies already exist – e.g., your AUP or RUP – and syncing them up)
- What is/isn't acceptable content and behavior in social media on the part of students, educators and school staff
- Your school's procedures for investigating an incident online and on mobile phones (include language calling for a team approach, including as many team roles/members appropriate to the particular incident and, whenever possible, student members)
- Procedures for addressing behavior and content that violate the policy (consider Restorative Conferencing as an option), ideally consistent with those for offline violations
- School communication with parents of a student(s) causing harm, of student(s) being targeted and of bystanders.
- General school communications via social media with parents.
- School communications with law enforcement about issues in social media (when and when not to call).
- School responses to calls from news media about issues in social media (including staff member designated to handle them)
- Educators' use of social media in the classroom
- Educators' interaction with students in social media in or outside of school.
- School personnel use of the school's own social media properties (Facebook page and other communication and info tools)
- Include social media and mobile phones in school's emergency response plan and reference that plan in the social media policy (the plan might include use of cell phones by students, staff and especially a media relations specialist during school emergencies).
- Training for students in what is acceptable behavior online and in how to respond constructively to negative behavior in social media (including the use of the #ICANHELP hashtag when reporting abusive content). The training might include “digital leadership” training and peer-mentoring training (of older students for training younger peers).
Guidance for school personnel
(often included in schools’ social media policies)
- Do not friend, follow or otherwise initiate social contact with students online.
- Communications with students (via text, comment, images) should be about academics – assignments and what's going on in class – e.g., the digital version of office hours.
- Just as offline, online communication with a student should never be exclusive (i.e., don't communicate with any student in a way you wouldn't with any other student).
- Personal social media accounts must remain free of personal opinions about students, colleagues, our school or our district, and know that students will know about anything that you do share online.
- When in doubt, check in with the social media policy team.
For the Internet safety and bullying prevention research highlights in which this document is grounded, click to this page here in our Resources section.