School & District Management

Fake Social Accounts Representing Schools or Districts: What’s Being Done

By Alyson Klein — October 14, 2022 4 min read
Fake News concept with gray words 'fact' in row and single bold word 'fake' highlighted by black magnifying glass on blue background
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

It’s not what a school public relations official wants to see in their Facebook feed: A fake account representing the district suddenly appears on a popular social networking site with the official logo, branding, and all the trappings of the real deal.

Then, the imposter account is used to bully students, share violent or racist images, or announce that school is closed when, in fact, it is not. Some of these accounts have sold fake tickets to real school district events, or solicited donations that wound up in the pocket of the impersonator.

These imposter social media accounts—sometimes, but not always, created by students—can alarm parents, harm kids’ mental health, disrupt learning, and hurt a school’s relationship with its community.

And the fake accounts are more common than you might think. More than half of school district officials surveyed by the Consortium for School Networking and the National School Public Relations Association last spring said they had dealt with these mock accounts.

What makes these accounts especially problematic is that it can be difficult for the general public to tell the difference between the real ones and the fake ones, survey respondents said.

One tool that could help: Verification, in which a social media company indicates that it has investigated a particular account and found that it is used by the person or organization it is purporting to be. Platforms typically mark verified accounts to distinguish them from those that haven’t been verified. Facebook and Instagram, for instance, use a verification badge. Twitter puts a blue check mark on an account.

But getting “verified” can be a lengthy and ultimately fruitless process, survey respondents said. In fact, a quarter of respondents said their school district had applied for verification in the past two years and been rejected because they didn’t meet a platform’s benchmarks. This is an especially big problem for smaller districts with fewer followers, in part because of the criteria social media companies employ to verify their users.

School districts struggle to get fake accounts shut down

Making matters worse: Getting rid of the fake accounts can be a never-ending, thankless task. Nearly half of those surveyed—45 percent—said they had difficulty reporting problematic accounts. Some districts responding to the survey said anecdotally that dozens of these mock accounts have popped up. There’s even been backlash when districts urged parents to help mitigate the problem by monitoring their children’s online activity.

These incidents wind up costing districts time, energy, and money, communications officials say.

“It certainly takes us away from our task at hand: educating kids and making sure that they’re in the best place possible. When some issues occur, it’s our Human Resources Department that has to get involved, it’s our upper administrative level staff members, it’s school counselors,” said Amy Busby, the director of community relations for the Medina City School District in Ohio, in an audio interview posted on NSPRA’s website. Dealing with these situations can take “hours, it could be a day, it could be a matter of days, so it’s really kind of a cumbersome task,” she added.

NSPRA and CoSN reached out for information and help in tackling the problem to a handful of platforms including LinkedIn, Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram), SnapChat, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube. Twitter is working on a specialized verification process just for K-12 school districts, and most of the others were willing to explore the possibility of creating a similar process.

Similarly, none of those companies offer K-12 districts their own, expedited path for removing imposter accounts, or posts that harass, intimidate, or bully students, though YouTube indicated a willingness to consider creating one.

Social media companies have already come under fire for ignoring the impact of their platforms on students’ mental health. In particular, documents released last year through a whistleblower revealed that Meta conducted extensive research on the negative impact of its platforms on children’s well-being and the spread of false information, but failed to act on any of those findings.

NSPRA and CoSN have created a toolkit to help districts advocate for faster verification of their authentic accounts and quicker removal of imposters, as well as content they see as harmful to their students.

“We’re asking social media companies for their support [in] cracking down on these types of pages,” said Craig Williams, the chief communications officer for Huntsville City Schools in Alabama, in an audio interview posted to NSPRA’s site. “Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a clear or easy way to remove [certain] types of inappropriate content online, especially inappropriate content involving children. … It’s extremely alarming.”


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
How to Leverage Virtual Learning: Preparing Students for the Future
Hear from an expert panel how best to leverage virtual learning in your district to achieve your goals.
Content provided by Class
English-Language Learners Webinar AI and English Learners: What Teachers Need to Know
Explore the role of AI in multilingual education and its potential limitations.
Education Webinar The K-12 Leader: Data and Insights Every Marketer Needs to Know
Which topics are capturing the attention of district and school leaders? Discover how to align your content with the topics your target audience cares about most. 

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Explainer What Does a School Principal Do? An Explainer
Learn about the principal workforce, what makes principals effective, and how schools can retain the best leaders.
Image of staffing.
Andrii Yalanskyi/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Running for a School Board Seat? This Is the Most Powerful Endorsement You Can Get
New research shows that this endorsement in school board races is more influential than any other, with virtually no downside.
5 min read
People in privacy booths vote in the midterm election at an early voting polling site at Frank McCourt High School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City on Nov. 1, 2022.
People in privacy booths vote in the midterm election at an early voting polling site at Frank McCourt High School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City on Nov. 1, 2022.
Ted Shaffrey/AP
School & District Management High Pace of Superintendent Turnover Continues, Data Show
About one in five large districts lost a superintendent last year, researchers found.
2 min read
Image of exit doors.
School & District Management Finding the Source of PCB Contamination in Schools Just Got Easier
Researchers say they have found a promising method to determine where in school buildings the PCB contamination is greatest.
7 min read
Image of a brick wall and glass blocks.