School Teaches Students Libel Risks They Face On Twitter

It ain’t easy being a kid online these days. There are cyberbullies everywhere it seems, with peers (and even some adults) who are quick to delight in others’ unfortunate and uber-public missteps.

And now teens have to worry about saying something stupid (as all teens inevitably do) and being sued for libel.

Fortunately for these kids, one school is taking steps to teach students about this super-serious threat before its kids stumble. Other schools should consider similar offerings, unless they’re fans of children learning the hard way (hand on a hot stove-top style).

Defamation. It’s a word that gets tossed around quite a bit online lately – particularly on Twitter.  The big news recently is the case of Lord McApline. He’s suing 10,000 Twitterers for tweeting and retweeting libelous claims about him.

And there are other instances of defamation as well – many of them: Like Courtney Love sending out ill-advised tweets (about a law firm, no less) and being sued. Heck, you could even get sued for creating a parody account.

Care to take a guess as to how many kids send libelous tweets and think it’s harmless? (It’s a rhetorical question, we don’t know the answer either, but assume it’s very large.)

And one school in the UK obviously thinks so too.

The Guardian reports that a private school in Somerset decided to teach its 13- and 14-year-old students just how serious these tweets can be and “how to avoid defaming people on Twitter.”

The move at the private school in Taunton to teach pupils about libel risks on Twitter, Facebook and other social media follows the Lord McAlpine case. . . . Taunton school said this had prompted teachers to extend teaching on the use of the internet and social media, which falls into the personal, social, health and economic, or PSHE, section of the national curriculum. The scheme, which may be extended to older pupils, began with lessons on basic internet safety, said Carol Manley, senior teacher at the school. She added: “We then realised that actually this was becoming quite a serious issue with things like parties on Facebook, the sorts of traps students can so easily fall into. From there we’ve really tried to keep abreast of social networking.

A Law Society spokeswoman said it seemed sensible for pupils to be taught the basics of libel law. She said: “Social media may be one of the first areas where children are confronted by legal issues, as something as seemingly innocent as a retweet can sometimes lead to legal action.”

How are they teaching this? Right now, it seems the instruction is via an educational DVD titled “Think Before You Post.” It’s a step in the right direction, at the very least. It shows the students “that anyone can be defamed.”

“We see it in the context of celebrity status, but it could just as easily be the person round the corner who sues you,” Manley said. “Students need to know that whatever they say may just come back to bite them.”

Do your teens know this? They’re dramatic already, save them from this drama if you can.

(Teen with laptop image from Shutterstock)

@MaryCLong Mary C. Long is Chief Ghost at Digital Media Ghost. She writes about everything online and is published widely, with a focus on privacy concerns, specifically social sabotage.
Publish date: December 27, 2012 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT