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November 9, 2023

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Also referred to as teacher-targeted bullying, there’s been a stark and alarming rise in the online cyberbullying of teachers in recent years.

Although it’s hard to pinpoint when teacher-targeted bullying began, the targeting of teachers is not necessarily a new concept. However, where once teachers were gossiped about behind bike sheds and tall tales told and shared on the school bus, the involvement of the internet has put a different slant on things.

Why are Teachers being Bullied Online?

Since print news began, controversary and scandal have always hit the headlines. It’s human nature to engage with stories that are dramatic or different. It’s no different when it comes to social media – the bigger the story, the more engagement. In other words, if a young person posts something scandalous, emotive, or shocking about a teacher, that post is likely to get more attention.

This can work as a feedback loop, with the original poster and/or other people vying to match or beat the popularity of the ‘first’ post.

However, the reasons behind teacher-targeted bullying cannot be wrapped up by simply saying, ‘it’s just for attention’. In most cases, the reasoning is likely to be more complex. Some contributing factors include:

  • Young people’s ability to regulate their emotions, make mature and rational choices, and decipher right from wrong has not yet been fully developed.
  • Mental health struggles or feeling isolated.
  • Frustrations about their home or school life and/or towards teachers.
  • The perpetrators think it’s funny and/or they want to gain popularity.
  • Being or previously being a victim of bullying themselves.
  • Discriminatory beliefs and behaviours can mean teachers are targeted for their cultural background, religion, sexual orientation, disability, health condition, age, the clothes they wear, haircut style or accent.

Young people may also mistake the amount of anonymity provided by platforms like TikTok. While it’s true that an account can be set up without providing any identification or a real name, that doesn’t mean the user can’t be tracked. Police have worked with social media platforms to find the identity of users posting harmful content, including teacher targeted bullying.

However, being armed with this (false) sense of anonymity can make young people feel that they’re free to post anything, without consequence. There’s also the sense of safety in numbers – if everyone else is targeting a teacher on TikTok, it seems less likely that they would be singled out to face consequences.

Watch the trailer!

The new Teacher Targeted Bullying course is available on our Safeguarding Apps. Watch the trailer of our new short film that explores what happens when Megan posts a TikTok about her teacher.

Find out more about our range of Safeguarding Apps and if you’re a Safer School by clicking the button below.

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What Does Teacher Targeted Bullying Look Like?

The content of these types of posts include:

  • Accusations of inappropriate and/or illegal behaviour, such as paedophilia, racism, extra-marital affairs, and sexual deviancy.
  • Personal attacks on appearance, lifestyle, and character.
  • Posting photographs taken without the teacher’s knowledge, such as ‘upskirting’: the practice of taking an illegal photo of someone’s genitals or genital area, without consent.
  • Setting up fake social media accounts, pretending to be a teacher or official school account.

It’s not just pupils that are the perpetrators. Parents have also been targeting teachers online, usually as a reaction to grievances or perceived criticism.

Top tips for parents and carers

If you’re a parent and you’re worried that the child or young person in your care is bullying a teacher or others, read our article on what to do When Your Child is The Bully.
Ask if they’ve seen teachers being targeted on TikTok and what they think about it. Have a conversation about the potential consequences for people who bully teachers online. Reiterate that what is said online can have just as much impact as what is said offline. You can use our Acts of Kindness resources to help.
A lot of people misunderstand how anonymous accounts work, believing that they can’t be tracked and there’s no way to find out who they are. This isn’t true – police and schools work with social media platforms to bring accountability to accounts posting harmful content and carrying out acts of cyberbullying on teachers.

Top tips for schools and staff

Ensure teachers are frequently auditing their own social media presence to make sure it’s private, that opinions expressed are suitable and that they keep up to date with new developments.
Make sure school policies are up to date and incorporate the steps to take in response to online bullying and issues.
As well as talking to other teachers and staff about cyberbullying, make sure pupils are aware of the risks and potential consequences should they carry out teacher targeted bullying.
A teacher may be at home when they discover they’ve been targeted. Therefore, it’s important that everyone knows to never retaliate or respond online and understands the next steps to take.
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