Area of Law: Education & School Law
Answer # 1411
Social mediaRegion: Ontario Answer # 1411
Electronic messages found in social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are easy to track and difficult to control. Once posted, electronic messages are archived by social media websites even if they are deleted by the user.
Both students and teachers face consequences if they use social media irresponsibly and inappropriately. In response to the increase in online bullying by students and its serious consequences, some provinces have introduced new cyberbullying legislation. For more information on social media use by students, view topic 1410 Cyberbullying.
Teachers must follow the ethical standards of practice established by their governing body. This includes a responsibility to act professionally when using social media. In addition, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that teachers’ off-duty conduct is relevant to their suitability to teach, even when not directly related to students.
Misusing social media and electronic communication can lead to serious disciplinary consequences for a teacher, and can be used as evidence in disciplinary cases. This includes inappropriate online, email and telephone conversations between teachers and others, including students, colleagues, parents, employers, family and friends. Exchanging photos, videos, or audio recordings or posting comments of an intimate or personal nature may lead to a complaint of professional misconduct.
Examples of inappropriate electronic communication include:
- intimate or personal texting with students
- inviting students to meet privately or without a valid educational context
- sending personal email or social networking contact information to students to communicate for personal reasons
- using informal and unprofessional language with students, such as profanity
- criticizing students, parents or colleagues openly on social media platforms
- posting or forwarding content, links or comments that might be considered offensive, discriminatory or inconsistent with professional or ethical standards
Other behaviours that can result in disciplinary measures include:
- sending graphic sexual materials electronically to students
- using school equipment to access, view or download pornography, including child pornography
- luring students and non-students via the Internet, as defined by the Criminal Code
According to the Ontario College of Teachers and the Student Protection Act, sexual abuse includes “behaviour or remarks of a sexual nature by a member towards a student.” Remarks of a sexual nature communicated online without any physical contact can be considered sexual abuse. Even if a member waits until the student has graduated before a sexual relationship occurs, the electronic communications with the student could result in findings of professional misconduct against the teacher.
Criminal and civil law implications
The inappropriate use of electronic communication and social media can also lead to criminal charges and convictions or civil action, and electronic communications and social media can be used as evidence in criminal and civil proceedings.
Examples of actions that may result in charges:
- posting harmful images or videos, or making slanderous comments, leading to civil actions such as defamation
- disclosing personal or confidential information about the school, students or colleagues, thus breaching workplace privacy policies and provisions in the Education Act
- posting the work of others without proper attribution, raising copyright violation issues
- breaching a court-ordered publication ban
- inciting hatred against an identifiable group
- disclosing information about a minor, contrary to the Youth Criminal Justice Act
- using technology to harass a student, colleague or others, contrary to the Criminal Code
- using a computer to lure a child or for juvenile prostitution under the Criminal Code
- exchanging or forwarding compromising photos, videos, or audio recordings of students leading to charges of possession or distribution of child pornography.
For more information, refer to the Ontario College of Teachers.
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