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Found Yourself In A Social Media Storm? My Advice: Leave It Alone. Do Not Respond. Do Not Engage

Prevent a parental Facebook gripe escalating into a national press conference with The Primary Head's one piece of simple advice

The Primary Head
by The Primary Head
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It is every head’s nightmare: you get home on a Friday and before you’ve even taken off your shoes you are informed of a social media EMERGENCY! Parents are complaining about you on Facebook.

It started as an innocent comment you wrote for the school newsletter, but now there is a petition to get you sacked and everyone is saying how they’re going to storm your assembly on Monday morning.

Your peaceful weekend has just evaporated in a puff of smoke – or should that be the click of a mouse? – and the next 48 hours are spent fretting about your future. As you lie in bed, wondering if you should contact your union, the chair of governors rings you and asks you to come into school for an emergency meeting. You tell her that it’s half past midnight, but she insists.

As you hang up, you notice that you have 37 unread emails from staff who have dutifully sent you messages containing screenshots of all the offensive things that parents are now saying about you. One of them explains that a new Facebook group has been created in your honour, and as you zoom in on the accompanying image you notice that your head has been superimposed onto the body of Beelzebub.

The governors spend the next hour strategising what the vice-chair keeps calling a ‘pre-emptive strike’. You try to point out that it’s not pre-emptive, in fact it’s reactionary and slightly over the top. But they insist that the school should put something official out on Facebook.

One of them thinks that it should be from your personal Facebook account so that the mob sees your human side. You explain that you don’t have a Facebook account and the one parent governor who has turned up says that this explains a lot. The chair comes to your defence and says that that is not a helpful comment and that maybe we should use the local press to reach out to the parents instead.

At 4:35am you get back into the car, trying to remember what you’ve agreed to: you’re doing a press interview on Sunday at the local carvery – accompanied by your family – and on Monday you’re holding a meeting in the main hall. Governors can’t be there but they’re confident that you will know what to say. You’ve left an email with your union rep to get in touch and you’ve already drafted another newsletter that you are to personally deliver to every household.

You arrive back home just in time for the sun to rise, whereupon your phone rings again. It’s the parent who posted the original complaint on Facebook. You’re too tired to ask them how on earth they got your number so, instead, you just listen.

They’re wondering if you’ve heard about the social media fuss that was raging earlier on and they just want to say how awfully sorry they are as they were only joking and, well, it just got a bit out of hand. They’ve informed the group administrator and the thread’s now been taken down. They just wanted to apologise and hope that it won’t disturb your weekend. You may have guessed by now that the above passage is fictitious. Although I know from personal experience how quickly something like a Facebook thread can escalate.

My advice to you, should you ever find yourself in the middle of a social media storm, is to leave it alone. Do not respond. Do not get involved. Tell everyone that you do not want to be updated on any salacious comments that are made.

Make sure your staff know understand not to get involved either. If parents really care about something, if they truly wish to express something to you in the hope that it will bring about change, they will take the time to talk to you when you are at work. At the very least, they will write you a letter or drop you an email which you can reply to. Respect yourself, your professionalism and, more importantly, your need for sleep, and ignore the white noise of angry social media. It ain’t good for nothing. #truth

The Primary Head is the moniker of a headteacher currently working in a UK primary school. Follow him on Twitter: @theprimaryhead.

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