What We Can Learn From Social Media Related Firings in Education

Photo by Will Barkoff on Unsplash

Reports of social media-related firings spiked to an all-time high this year as political and pandemic unrest gripped the country. Unfortunately, as the pandemic has forced schools to migrate operations online, effectively inching private and professional lives even closer together, educators have often been at the center of these stories, creating a wealth of public relations headaches for the institutions that employ them. This potentially poses serious questions about the quality of education that a school is able to provide. If educators are not able to successfully act with integrity, how are their students (and student’s families) supposed to maintain trust in the institution?

For example, earlier this year, a sociology and criminology professor from the University of North Carolina Wilmington sparked controversy with “vile” tweets ranging from racist slurs to misogynist clap backs. His tweets drew numerous calls for him to be removed, and a lawsuit over the violation of first amendment rights soon followed. The debacle was eventually resolved when the professor announced his retirement effective later that summer pending a settlement with the university.

Others have not been as lucky. A Seattle high school wrestling coach was fired after only his first season for posting racist, violent photos of himself pinned to the floor in defense of the police that killed George Floyd. 


What can we learn?

Educational institutions have a responsibility to hold faculty and staff accountable in the interest of the communities they serve. Practically, institutions have a duty to do everything in their power to foster safe and nurturing learning environments for impressionable minds. This not only involves creating robust policy but also an expectation that staff acts as community role models who are capable of living according to a professional code of conduct. Policy, then, becomes the linchpin and the ethical documentation that determines how schools maintain good standing within their communities. When that policy is broken, the damage has a ripple effect from students to families to the local population at large.

While the UNCW professor was not fired, the controversy in and of itself demonstrated a clear lack of professionalism as a public-facing individual and employee. Furthermore, the wrestling coach demonstrated behavior that “was not consistent with [the school’s] equity initiatives and nondiscrimination policies,” according to the district spokesman. This goes to show that simply having a policy, even if it is inclusive of social media behavior, does not necessarily mitigate poor behavior--especially in the digital sphere.


What can schools do?

Unfortunately, stories like these have become all too common and reveal much deeper problems within educational institutions that are hard to address internally and even harder to account for in public. These stories demonstrate that while schools may have thorough policies, without a way to proactively implement them, schools still end up defending their reputations in the court of public opinion. That’s why social media screening services exist - to help mitigate public relations nightmares and maintain values-driven initiatives. Screening firms like Social Intelligence proactively help institutions weed out bad hires during the hiring process while assisting in the implementation of a defined code of conduct. As ways of communication and the nature of work continue to evolve into digital spaces, it is vital that hiring and employment policies evolve with them, and even more important that those policies are actionable and implemented. That way, institutions can rest assured that there are systems in place to help mitigate damages when something does go awry. 


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