By Christine Lavelle
SOCIAL networking sites could be held accountable for cyber bullying if Scottish teachers go ahead with their planned legal battle on websites like Facebook.
The country’s largest teaching union – the Education Institute of Scotland (EIS) – said it receives between 50 and 60 complaints a year from teachers claiming to have been harassed and threatened online by their pupils.
Drew Morrice, assistant secretary for EIS, said new measures should be put in place to make sure websites are being held accountable for their content in the same way as newspapers and broadcasters.
He said: “Most social networking sites have published derogatory material and in some cases it does a lot of emotional damage.
“We need a change in the law to make liability rest with the site holders.”
He added that teachers have become “fair game” for malicious comment online, and said that there is no reason why sites like Facebook should get legal immunity.
‘No place for cyber bullying’
Currently, social media websites and their owners can not be prosecuted for threats made by users.
But, new legislation which was passed under the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 means police will be given more powers to charge people who are harassing others through emails, social networking and text messages.
This will come into effect this year, and the EIS says it will back any teacher who wishes to pursue a criminal complaint.
A school teacher who asked not to be named told how she discovered three of her teenage pupils writing about her on social media site Bebo, saying that they wanted to stab and burn her.
Two have been charged with breach of the peace.
She said: “I know these girls may end up with a criminal record and I have been torn about what to do, but I feel like I have given so much of my effort and energy into these girls and for them to turn around and do what they did is wrong.”
Brian Donnelly, director of RespectMe, Scotland’s anti-bullying service, said: “We need to educate young people on how to use the internet and to think about what they say online and where the boundaries are.”
A Facebook spokeswoman said: “There is no place for cyber bullying on Facebook and we respond aggressively to reports of potential abuse.
“Reports involving harassment are prioritised, with most reviewed in 24 hours.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “When implemented, the new stalking offence in the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 will give victims greater legal protection, whilst ensuring prosecutors have the full range of powers available to them to bring a convictions.”