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CoSN '23: Social Media Should Cooperate With Schools on Safety

In a panel at the annual Consortium for School Networking conference, educators said social media companies and school districts can work together on student safety and combating malicious impersonator accounts.

From left, Keith Bockwoldt, Melissa Reese, Geneve Villacres and Mellissa Braham lead a CoSN conference panel Wednesday, March 22 about how social media companies and schools can collaborate on school safety.
Image courtesy of CoSN (screenshot)
K-12 schools are fighting an uphill battle to keep students safe on social media sites, where schools encounter a minefield of malicious and fraudulent accounts and cyber bullying, among other cyber threats. Some educators say the need for partnerships between schools and social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok and Facebook may play a key role in student safety efforts moving forward.

The need for such partnerships was among the key points of focus during a Wednesday webinar for the 2023 Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) conference, led by National School Public Relations Association Associate Director Mellissa Braham, Allendale School District Communications Manager Melissa Reese, Hinsdale Township High School District 86 CIO Keith Bockwoldt and Geneve Villacres, a U.S. policy spokeswoman from TikTok. The discussion, titled "Social Media and Schools: A Partnership for Safety," drew from a recent report co-written by CoSN and the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) that stressed the need for better verification processes to protect school accounts from cyber threats, as well as more cooperation between social media platforms and educators.

According to Reese, schools have become increasingly concerned with how social media is used for cyber bullying, between or against students. She noted that social media companies often aren't responsive to reports and requests from schools to remove malicious content targeting students, such as student “fight videos” and content from malicious accounts more generally.

“We deal with it so frequently,” she told Government Technology. “We can report them for bullying, report them for violence, and Instagram will often say it doesn’t violate their community guidelines.”

Reese noted that social media allows school districts to inform families of important and timely news like inclement weather and school closings. However, she said, social media sites need more stringent verification and reporting processes for malicious accounts and impersonators, as well as for verifying official school district accounts to better communicate with students and parents.

According to the report from CoSN and NSPRA, “a third or fewer” school survey respondents were able to get their district accounts verified by social media platforms. The report added that 59 percent of schools have had to deal with accounts that harass and intimidate students, while 45 percent said social media platforms have refused to remove malicious accounts and posts. To help alleviate concerns, Villacres noted in the panel that TikTok has made efforts to improve their verification process and secure user data.

“They’ve rolled out some new features for users under the age of 18, which is really great, and I wish other platforms out there would take these types of measures for protections,” Reese said.

Bockwoldt agreed that impersonator accounts are among the top concerns for schools now, in addition to "inappropriate sites" named after schools and student cyber bullying, which comes in the form of posts and videos. He said it’s “very difficult, if not impossible,” to have many of these types of posts removed by most social media companies today.

Bockwoldt added that social media companies should cooperate more with schools moving forward to alleviate these issues, starting with giving a single point of contact for school systems that want assistance with these issues.

“I would be willing to pay an additional fee each year to support this type of position or department, and imagine many other school systems would feel the same way. Having a direct contact would alleviate many of the issues we are constantly dealing with,” he said. "[In addition], if the social media companies had a department dedicated to the education community, it would be amazing if they could present to students at school systems on digital citizenship and how their digital footprint stays around forever.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.