School takes legal action against online bullies

A Melbourne school has taken legal action after its teachers were bullied online by parents.

Australia’s leading cyber safety expert, Susan McLean, said a Melbourne primary school she advises has written a legal letter to parents asking them to stop abusing its teachers on social media and online forums.

“They were talking about the quality of teaching, defaming people, using obscene language,” McLean told The Herald Sun.

“We are seeing more and more of totally inappropriate, disrespectful behaviour online. People think it is harmless fun, but it can ruin a teacher's life, and what kind of message is it sending to their children?”

McLean warned that this scenario was becoming increasingly common and many parents were now lashing out on forums like Facebook rather than through the proper channels.

McLean said some parents have even up Facebook pages and websites in order to publicly name schools and teachers they have grievances with.

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals (VASSP), Judy Crowe, called the situation unfair, adding many teachers need “incredibly thick skin” to avoid becoming demoralised.

“Often people feel comfortable on social media saying something they wouldn’t be prepared to say to someone directly, and it may be untrue,” she said.

While many schools teach students about digital citizenship – such as being responsible when accessing, sharing or posting online material – what level of understanding do parents have on this concept?

Alex Kohn from Makinson d’Apice lawyers told The Educator that it is imperative that all people understand the consequences of acting outside the law when it comes to using the Internet.

Kohn said the main thing people should be aware of is that posting comments online means that those comments can be seen by a very wide audience.

“Online comments are no different from paper based comments in that the laws of defamation apply,” he said.
“Therefore, all of us who post online need to be mindful not to defame someone else or breach their privacy.”