Falsified accusations against schools and teachers are being published on fake news websites and shared on social media, threatening irreversible damage to careers and reputations, the Telegraph reports.
There is growing concern among teachers and parents over the sites, which enable users to publish false stories in a news article format which are then being shared thousands of times on other social media sites. In one case a false article claimed that a teacher had sex with a pupil and had taken selfies of the incident after it happened.
The story was then shared over 73,000 times on social media and included a picture of the school building. Head teachers at the targeted schools said many parents and pupils had fallen for the fake news websites stories.
In another fake news article incident, it was claimed that a teacher from Bridge Learning Campus, Bristol, had kidnapped a pupil. Keziah Featherstone, head of the school, said that children as young as eight had seen and believed the story. Speaking to the Times Educational Supplement (TES), she said that dealing with the aftermath had required up to 20 hours work a week and that the school’s receptionists had been “taking calls from parents and children, who didn’t understand it was a prank.”
Head teachers have also had to deal with false news stories claiming schools had been shut due to gas leaks or had been “set on fire.”
The problems in school follow criticism of Facebook and other social media networks that have allowed fake news to be published on their platforms, with some arguing that fake stories helped Donald Trump win the US presidential election.
Andrew Minchin, head of Robert Napier School in Gillingham, Kent, said it is essential that schools respond quickly to tackle false online reports. He said his own school had been subject to two hoax news stories; the first, published on Bonfire night, claimed that part of it had been set on fire, while a second article reported the school’s closure due to a burst pipe.
Mr Minchin told The Telegraph:
“It was crucial that the school addressed the social media hoax news article as it had left some parents misinformed about whether the school was open.
We had to contact parents over a weekend at the end of a half term holiday to ensure that students attended school as normal the following day. These news articles have a very real look to them and in our case reached 50,000 people.”
The same story was also published about nearby The Thomas Aveling School in Rochester.
Paul Jackson, head teacher at the school, said:
“A post was put up on Facebook to say the school was closed for a month due to a gas leak. We were made aware of it by a parent and we quickly communicated with all parents that this was not true through our own website, Facebook page and emails to all.”
To upload a news story on the hoax news websites, users fill out an online form which is then published on the site and can be shared instantly to social media.
The sites, which remain unnamed in initial reports, invite users to “create false news and prank your friends” and “Share them on social networks!” but both add that “Any bullying, racist, homophobic or pornographic jokes are prohibited.”
Mr Minchin added:
“Our experience shows there is no verification process from the news provider and, as such, they can be malicious in nature. Our job as teachers is to educate the next generation of students to have the skills to check whether news stories come from reputable news providers and to always question the validity of what they read.”