Malesherbes railed against the fashion for getting news from the printed page, arguing that it socially isolated readers and detracted from the spiritually uplifting group practice of getting news from the pulpit.

Clickbait, Lies and Propaganda

So, this is not a new subject. Or a new phenomena. And what sparked me off this morning was a tweet from Eric Stoller.

There are so many things going on in this tweet I actually struggled on where to start. But then I, like Eric, decided to challenge the headline; because I think it needed challenging. So what is my issue with it? As someone who was bullied at school I would like to know why teachers are not saying “hey, now we can see the bullying!”.  When I was at school teachers were at best unaware of it, but if I am honest – I think some of them just didn’t care or thought it “part of the culture of schools”. Now we have a culture of bullying in schools and in wider society that is both more visible, and possibly more enabled.

Whining that it is the fault of technology is not just pointless, it is abdication of responsibility.

It is that blaming of the technology that really annoyed me to start with and got me digging into the story. Blaming technology for things is not uncommon, those of us who work in ed-tech are familiar with stories about Students being distracted by laptops in class and similar headlines; CNN once ran the headline “E-mails ‘hurt IQ more than pot’” and the Telegraph “Facebook and MySpace generation ‘cannot form relationships” (and yes I know that last headline will set all sorts of digital native bullshit klaxons off across the world). But this is not new, it is the same recycled alarmism that has been around since the 18th Century when Malesherbes complained that getting news from the printed page socially isolated readers and detracted from the spiritually uplifting group practice of getting news from the pulpit. Or complaints that radio will distract and over excite children in the 1930s (other technologies to complain about are available depending on decade). These arguments have all been made before. Eric was right to call it out.

Malesherbes railed against the fashion for getting news from the printed page, arguing that it socially isolated readers and detracted from the spiritually uplifting group practice of getting news from the pulpit.


Clickbait, Lies and Propaganda

But there is another issue in play here. Brexit and Trump have been foremost in my mind for a long time, the lies that were told, the clickbait stories and the propaganda machines they employed. But then the headline writer of the news story from the original tweet is not that different. Let’s look at it again;

@schoolsweek tweeted “Teachers are warning that apps like Snapchat and Facebook make it easier for pupils to abuse each other”  with a link to the story.

I was going to write a blog about the anthropomorphism of technology – how we blame “things” instead of our own culture. So I went off to read the story.

The story comes from a press release from the Association of Teacher and Lecturers. The headline they use is somewhat different –  Pupils subjected to hate crime and speech while at school – ATL poll.

They asked 11 questions (shown at the end of the blog), the first 8 questions make no reference to any form of “cyber bullying”, the first question that is asked is about incidents of bullying, where 22% of the respondents were aware of bullying incidents in the school, 60.1% weren’t aware and 17.7% weren’t sure. In question 9 they give a list of forms of bullying and almost 66% of the respondents think that cyber bullying increased over the last 2 years.

The next question focused on the types of bullying the results are below

Form of Bullying Percentage of (243) respondents Number of respondents
Verbal abuse 84.8 206
Cyber bullying via text/email/social media 51.9 126
Physical abuse 21.4 52
Emotional abuse (isolating, ignoring, humiliating) 60.5 147

The story put out by the ATL was about Hate Crime and Speech, it was about what support teachers needed, it was about what was going with young people in schools. For me the table is really worrying. 85% of respondents said there was verbal abuse. 60% said there was emotional abuse, then they mention the cyber abuse, but of course that can be both verbal and emotional and they are describing the medium? Which means that in face to face situations where 22% of teachers are aware of incidents 85% of them are verbal abuse (hate crime and speech). More than 1 in 5 of those incidents are physical!

At the start of this piece I was angry at teachers for blaming technology for something they need to take responsibility for. They are, the whole story is about teachers highlighting bullying. The poll is a cry for help in our schools, the press release is well written and referenced but the way the news story was written made me mad at teachers!

A great quote from Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL iS included in the press release demonstrating how seriously and sensitively they are addressing the issue:

“There are a number of complex reasons why pupils bully other pupils and schools try their best to work with both pupils and parents to deal with these incidents.

ATL calls for awareness to be raised about the discrimination faced daily by many. Schools need to play their role in educating children to build a culture of tolerance and respect. All schools should have robust bullying policies in place that cover how to deal with incidents of hate crime and speech. We hope that schools can support staff to educate young people in recognising and challenging hate crimes and hate speech wherever they occur.”

Let’s remind ourselves of the two headlines and first line side by side:

From Schools Week

Snapchat and Facebook make it easier for pupils to abuse each other, teachers warn

Teachers have warned that social media apps, such as Snapchat and Facebook, are making it easier for pupils to abuse each other, with mild insults escalating into “serious threats” which disrupt learning.

From the Press release

Pupils subjected to hate crime and speech while at school – ATL poll

Over a fifth (22%) of education staff believe that pupils have been subjected to hate crime or hate speech* while at school in the last academic year, according to a poll of 345 members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

The social media story was inferred from a few anecdotes within the press release, and by other sources. Although those sources have nothing to do with bullying.

There are 3 lines that make this point particularly well:

[referring to a bullying incident] Social media’s role in such incidences is likely to grow as usage of such networks expands among children.

According to Business Insider, a recent survey of teenagers by PiperJaffray found that picture and video messaging app Snapchat was the most popular social network, used by 81 per cent of respondents. It was closely followed by picture app Instagram, used by 79 per cent.

One teacher from North Yorkshire said mobile phones were a “contentious issue” and that apps such as Snapchat have “made it easier than ever to send abuse”.

One might think that the Business Insider story also highlights bullying or abuse – and is being used for supporting evidence? Actually the story is about how teens are moving to larger social networks instead of the smaller ones and makes no reference to bullying or abuse.

We are all focused on the larger propaganda news stories that are doing the rounds, and I’ll be honest I don’t know if this is propaganda, clickbait  or bad reporting. But it is from inside the education sector – and if you are writing news about education I will hold you to the same standard that you hold our teachers. And if you ignore the real issues in favour of drivel like this you are damaging education, and those who work in it. ATL are really concerned about hate crime, hate speech and bullying.

You went for a cheap headline about Facebook and Snapchat.

ATL Poll questions

  1. Are you aware of any incidents of hate crime/speech in your school/college involving pupils in this academic year?
  2. What are the main reasons pupils in your school/college are bullied? Please mark all that apply.
  3. Do you believe there has been an increase in hate crime/speech, and bullying associated with hate crime/speech, among pupils in your school/college in the last year?
  4. Do you think that hate crime, hate speech and discrimination should be covered in mandatory PSHE and age-appropriate SRE?
  5. Do you think that your school/college provides enough support if anyone needs to report incidents of hate crime/speech?
  6. Have you received training on how to deal with incidents of hate crime/speech?
  7. Have any pupils in your school/college been subject to bullying in the current academic year? Please mark all that apply.
  8. How often does bullying occur? Please mark all that apply.
  9. Do you think that these forms of bullying have increased over the last two years?
  10. What form does this bullying take? Please mark all that apply.
  11. Do you feel you receive enough support from your school/college/SLT/head when dealing with incidents of bullying between pupils?



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