Controlling your digital reputation


The Independent Schools Council (ISC) has published information to help people erase their digital histories.

The ISC’s website highlights the apparent ease with which pupils, former pupils and parents are able to post defamatory material about the school or staff, and the difficulty in having this material removed from a website.

The advice page – found here [Hyperlink] – lists what you need to know, some of the key sites by pupils, and practical advice on getting material removed form websites.

ISC points out that videos, pictures, articles and comments can be published on the internet instantaneously, and there is little effective regulation or restriction on what can be published. These can include clips of lessons, and schools are not able to edit what is posted on a site.

Webites used by pupils include: YouTube, Facebook, Myspace, Bebo, and Rate your Teacher (where pupils can write comments about their teachers and give them a rating). There have also been instances when parents or pupils have purchased domain names which are very similar to the official school site name.

ISC recommends that sites are monitored regularly, and that if schools want material to be removed, they should contact the website administrators. However, it warns that schools have enjoyed varying degrees of success in getting material removed by administrators.

Administrators are usually supportive if there is a child protection issue. They often take the stance that if the material does not break their publication rules (ie, that the person posting the material has the right to do so and that it is not pornographic), there is a freedom of publication and that schools do not have any right to regulate the material just because they don’t like the content.

Rateyourteacher.com, apparently, is generally very unsympathetic. Administrators are responsive if there is an issue of libel. So the material has to be defamatory and untrue. Opinion (as opposed to what is purported to be objective material) is more difficult to deal with as any opinion ‘honestly held’ is not regarded as libel unless it contains untrue facts.

The easiest and most effective way of getting material removed from a site is to contact the person who posted the material or who administers the forum, ISC explained. Where the publisher is a pupil, some schools have found that the most effective technique is to write to their parents.

In one case where a video of a very drunk pupil in boarding house had been posted on YouTube, the headteacher wrote to the parents explaining the long-term danger to the reputation of the pupil.

Finally, if the content is damaging and untrue, schools may contact all of the websites who are publishing the content and ask them to remove it pending libel action. Schools may also contact internet service providers. ISPs are not generally considered liable as long as they act to take down potentially libellous material when notified.

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