January/February 2023

Practical PR: The Need for Verification in Social Media


Social media allows school districts to engage families in local education in timely and innovative ways, but without dedicated verification and reporting processes for schools, districts struggle to prevent the harm to students and staff caused by malicious and fraudulent accounts.  

Administrators are spending countless hours each year reporting malicious accounts — some that impersonate school leaders and spread false information, some that show embarrassing photos of students, some that use footage of other districts’ students to mis-characterize local schools — and training staff on how to help report accounts, in the hope that more reports will lead to faster response times from the social media platforms. 
Challenges like these have long been reported anecdotally during conferences, in online communities, and at meetings by members of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA), which represents more than 2,500 school communication professionals, and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), which represents technology leaders in over 1,100 school districts with 13 million students.

A formal member survey conducted in spring 2022 further confirmed the nature and extent of these challenges: Social media platforms’ lack of dedicated verification and reporting processes for federally recognized K-12 education institutions are causing a drain on educational time and resources in school communities across the United States. 

Striking findings of Schools and Social Media: A Survey of NSPRA and CoSN Members include the following: 

  • For each individual social media platform, generally a third or fewer respondents indicated they were able to get their organizations verified. 

  • Overall, a quarter of respondents indicated that within the last two years their educational organizations have applied to be verified on social media and have been rejected (25%). 

Respondents indicated that among their educational organizations: 

  • 59% have dealt with accounts that harass, intimidate, or bully students. 

  • 51% have dealt with mock (i.e., impersonation) accounts appearing with their logos/branding. 

  • 45% have dealt with social media platforms not removing reported accounts/posts that harass, intimidate or bully their students. 

With support from national education association partners, NSPRA and CoSN reached out during summer 2022 to several social media platforms — including Meta (Facebook, Instagram), Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn — to assess their awareness of these challenges and to collaboratively identify current and potential solutions. Representatives for each platform were asked to respond to three key questions: 

  • Does your platform allow all federally recognized K-12 education institutions to verify their official social media accounts/pages? 

  • Does your platform provide a process for reporting fraudulent social media accounts/pages that pretend to represent a federally recognized K-12 education institution? 

  • Does your platform provide a dedicated process for federally recognized K-12 education institutions to report social media posts and accounts that harass, intimidate, bully or otherwise negatively target their students? 

CoSN and NSPRA staff had conversations, via email and/or virtually, with representatives from each platform. Many representatives indicated they were not aware of these issues facing school districts, and some were interested in exploring ways to resolve them.  

While many of the platforms had general consumer verification processes at that time, none had a process dedicated to school districts’ social media accounts. Some also created inequities between larger and smaller school systems by prioritizing verification based on an account’s number of followers. However, LinkedIn, Meta (Facebook, Instagram), TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube indicated a willingness to explore solutions to this problem.  

Similarly, none of the platforms had a dedicated process for school districts to report fraudulent social media accounts or to report posts and accounts that harass, intimidate, bully or otherwise negatively target students. However, YouTube has indicated interest in exploring a solution. 

NSPRA and CoSN are appreciative of the various social media platforms’ willingness to engage in these difficult but constructive conversations. To further explore the issue, possible solutions, and this matter, CoSN and NSPRA have created a campaign toolkit, available via the link below. 

The National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) provides school communication training, services, and professional development to school leaders, serving more than 2,500 members who work primarily as communication directors in public school districts and education organizations. Practical PR is a collaboration between the Journal and the Illinois Chapter of NSPRA. Resources associated with this article can be accessed at iasb.com/Journal.