A Line in the Sand for Cyber Bullying in Schools

Tuesday April 26, 2016

Anthony Mason, Manager at KPMG's Social Media Intelligence Group spoke with Sintija Dobrotinsek of Legalwise Seminars to discuss social media management and schools.

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You can find the transcript of the Q&A below.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself Anthony? How do you work with schools?

I began working in social media intelligence in 2010 at a small company called SR7, it was early in the industry’s development. At that time, not only schools, but all institutions were behind the curve of personal use. It was a particularly difficult time for schools because school-aged students were some of the most comfortable with digital communications technologies, and they generally do not make the link between even public activity and reputational damage to either their school or themselves as they enter adulthood.

I’m at KPMG now, since SR7 was acquired by the firm two years ago, and here we work with our school clients across a small number of social media services, usually liaising with communications and operations people and principals. Most often we conduct monitoring on social media to assist schools on a day-to-day basis, we perform snap research on key events as they emerge, we develop key social media program policy documents, or we advise schools on how they can better engage with the school community and publically through social media.

What do you think is the difference between online/cyber bullying and classroom bullying?

There are a number of dynamics to cyber-bullying that are different to classroom or schoolyard bullying, but which are no less insidious.

Firstly, cyber-bullying continues well after school hours, and in a sense it becomes unrelenting, and even if a student does not view it, they are aware that it is just there on their computer or phone screen, and that others might still be engaging it.

Secondly, the internet also has a way of removing grey areas in bullying, you either make a negative comment or you don’t, or you deny a friend request or you don’t, you either invite someone to an event or you don’t – it’s very plain in internet nomenclature. 

Finally, cyber-bullying carries a firm digital record which is indelible. There are advantages for schools in being able to track down and view bullying, but negatives in the sense that stakeholders, and particularly journalists, can also view and capture actual instances of bullying and this causes reputational, and potentially legal, risk.

What do you think the recent decision of Toronto High School to expel 50 students shows in relation to the attitude of school towards cyber bullying?

It was firm and progressive leadership, no doubt, and pleasingly for mine it was well received by the public. I think it’s these sort of line-in-the-sand moments that are needed from the education community to reinforce that cyber bullying is a form bullying.

You will be presenting at our upcoming School Law Conference about the risks of cyber bullying and what are some practical ways schools could do to guide their students and their behaviour in the cyber space. What is the first thing you ask schools when trying to help them with a cyber bullying incident?

The first step is to gather as much evidence as is possible about what actually transpired. Ideally, contextual research should go into the previous online activities of the parties concerned, too. Our school clients have their best conversations with their students when it is informed by facts.

Could you share with us what are some indicators that could point out to a potential social media issue for a school? Something principals need to keep an eye out for?

There are you obvious indicators like an incident at the school, traditional media coverage but aside from that there is very little that schools can do predictively outside a good monitoring program and a constant dialogue with students. Students should know that cyber-bullying is not tolerated and that they are encouraged to raise it with school staff.


Personal Profile

Anthony is a Manager in KPMG’s Social Media Intelligence Group and has significant experience in social media risk management and intelligence. He specialises in helping organisations understand their social media landscapes and challenges and how they can manage the risk and capitalise on the opportunities. He provides pragmatic and evidence-based advice which cuts through the industry jargon to provide strategic counsel that is valued by clients and helps them reach their business objectives. He is a regular speaker at industry events and a contributor to media publications.

Anthony regularly leads large social media projects for major corporate companies, government departments and NFPs, including social media strategies, internal audits, research projects, forensic investigations, and crisis management.

Of particular note is that Anthony has managed a 24 hour day global social media monitoring project, he has administered social media components of corporate crisis management exercises, and he appeared as an expert witness in Australia’s first ever social media defamation case to reach a full trial.

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