Schools may be liable for comments
■ Schools are being warned they could be liable for defamatory comments posted on their Facebook pages by parents.
A document sent to members of the WA Primary Principals’ Association urges principals to moderate comments on school social media sites and remove inappropriate material as soon as possible.
“If your school has a Facebook site or other media that allows social commentary, be aware you could become liable for defamatory comments posted on to these sites,” it says.
“The position emerging from Australian courts is that ‘brand’ owners must take responsibility for user posts on their social media.”
WAPPA president Stephen Breen said the association had asked its lawyers to develop the guidelines on social media, defamation and schools in response to members’ concerns.
The document says rumour and misinformation can quickly undermine a school’s reputation.
But it advises taking legal action over defamatory comments could be a long and costly path.
Instead, it suggests principals record the evidence, ask the site moderator to remove the comments and notify the person who posted the comment of the issue.
Mr Breen said social media was now an accepted means of communication between schools and parents, but principals needed to be aware of problems.
“The good name of a school is very important,” he said.
Mr Breen said although parents rarely posted negative comments on a monitored school site, schools and teachers were often targets on community Facebook pages.
But he said it was encouraging more parents were prepared to back schools by arguing against negative comments.
Education Department acting deputy director-general for schools Lindsay Hale said a growing number of public schools had Twitter or Facebook pages to keep their communities up to date with news about children’s schooling.
The department provided advice to schools on establishing a social media presence, including considering the associated risks and making sure the account was monitored so any inappropriate content could be controlled.
“Social media is pervasive and like billions of users around the world, our schools need to take responsibility for their accounts and avoid risks,” Mr Hale said.