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19 November 2021
By Rebecca Avery

Online Safety Alert: Responding to Fake Accounts Targeting Schools and Staff on Social Media

Over the years, the online safety advisors within the Education Safeguarding Service have received calls from schools and settings regarding fake social media accounts being set up, sometimes using schools’ names, and/or sharing inappropriate and sometimes derogatory content relating to schools and/or individual staff members. In November 2021, there was a significant increase in concerns reported across the country following a national viral trend.

These accounts often share images of learners and/or staff, usually taken from the school’s website or by learners when on site or, in some cases, have been taken from staff members’ personal social networking profiles. Many of the videos may be considered to be offensive, could be viewed as bullying or harassment and in some cases are making potential allegations against staff. In most cases, these accounts can be traced back to pupils as part of a ‘prank’, and  seeking to gain large numbers of views and followers. Whilst the intention for sharing this material often begins as a 'joke', it can have a considerable emotional impact on learners, staff and schools being targeted, as well as there being potential criminal or disciplinary consequences for those involved in the creation of the accounts.

We appreciate this can be a distressing issue for schools to deal with and there can be complicating factors which need to be considered; in these situations a telephone consultation with the Education Safeguarding Service is advised, however if this issue is affecting your school and is brought to your attention, we have created some general guidance to help schools respond using the following steps:

  1. gather evidence
  2. undertake an initial investigation
  3. apply internal sanctions and support
  4. provide support to staff
  5. report.

Nationally, guidance and support is available from the UK Safer Internet Centre Professionals Online Safety Helpline (POSH) here and an in-depth article about reporting fake accounts online can also be found here. Alternatively, the Professionals Online Safety Helpline has put together a short video which explains the most recent issue, how educators can report distressing content and how to contact POSH for further support.

If the service is made aware of any national guidance or updates regarding this issue, we will update our advice and this blog post as appropriate.

Preventative Action

If your school has not been involved in a specific concern, we would still encourage you to consider the following preventative approaches:

  • review your school policies to ensure that online behaviour is specifically addressed and that clear and effective procedures for dealing with incidents are in place
  • clarify expectations on learner behaviour and conduct with staff, parents and learners, including your expectations regarding the use of mobile technology on site and social media
  • revisit your curriculum approaches and ensure online safety is viewed as part of your RSHE approaches. Consider if there is sufficient regular and embedded education taking place regarding appropriate online behaviour and use of social media; this should include healthy relationships, positive use and respect
  • revisit your staff training and staff behaviour policy. Ensure all staff are aware of the process to follow if they are aware of a concern or become a victim of bullying and how they can access support. Remind all staff to ensure they have appropriate privacy settings on personal social media sites and are checking these settings regularly.