Facebook, Twitter and other social media websites pose a "devastating" threat to schools and are a "bigger fear than Ofsted", says the National Association of Head Teachers' General Secretary, writes Matt Warman at the Telegraph.
General Secretary, Russell Hobby, was responding to a study released earlier this week by the University of Plymouth, which said teachers are increasingly being targeted by parents who see them as "fair game for abuse" on Facebook and Twitter.
Research by Prof Andrew Phippen included interviews with a headmistress who, after facing a year-long barrage of cyber abuse from a parent using social media sites, suffered a breakdown and was left feeling suicidal.
"Facebook is becoming a bigger fear for schools than Ofsted," said Mr Hobby.
"Increasingly, social media are being used to fuel campaigns against schools and teachers. Twenty per cent of our members have received threats or abuse online – parents or ex-pupils being the most common source. The results can be devastating".
One teacher told Prof Phippen "we just have to live with it" because abusive blogs were regarded as "the extension of the school gate".
Mr Hobby said that a key problem with online abuse was that there is no standard procedure to tackle lies or misinformation, writes Warman.
"There is no âdue process', no right of reply, no appeal and no requirement for evidence," he said.
"Frequently the campaigns are based on false allegations or innuendo and are joined by people with little or no contact with the school – and we've seen how social media and the mob mentality can be combined in the recent riots in British cities."
One in three teachers has been the victim of online bullying, or knows a colleague who has, and a quarter of that abuse has been by parents, writes Warman.
Mr Hobby claimed that:
"When people don't get the decision they want [such as on discipline], they vent online. Parent power can have its negative side. This attitude is combined with the sense of anonymity and freedom from restraint that people get online, to permit language and behavior that people would never dream of doing in real life."
A Facebook spokesman said "These online discussions are a reflection of those happening offline".
"But while you can't report a conversation outside the school gates or easily stop a person sending abusive, anonymous e-mails, Facebook have worked hard to develop reporting mechanisms that enable people to report offensive content they are concerned about."
Hobby has advised teachers to call the police if they felt threatened, or to ask service providers to remove inappropriate online material. He admitted that taking legal action was seldom effective for teachers.