WHAT THE MEDIA SAY: Schoolmate site concern for teachers

Organisation: Friends Reunited website

Issue: Complaints from teachers' unions



Little can mar the phenomenal success of the Friends Reunited website,

despite allegations that its 'reminiscences' message board had become a

platform for malicious (and possibly libellous) comment about former

teachers.



The website has become one of the most popular in the UK, attracting

four to five million hits each day from people wishing to reunite with

old friends and reminisce about school-time antics.



But teaching unions have voiced concern over memories, which, in a few

cases, presented a less than rosy picture of some educators: 'Friends

Reunited caned for teacher 'abuse'" (vnunet.com, 12/11).



Allegations ranging from physical and sexual abuse to excessive alcohol

intake caused offence and anger among parts of the teaching community,

leading to calls for the suspension of the website - and possible legal

action.



National Association of Head Teachers chief David Hart highlighted the

importance of reputation in a teaching career. He said: 'In this day and

age you have only got to make an allegation against a teacher and that

teacher is automatically suspended' (bbc.co.uk, 12/11).



But debate over freedom of speech was largely avoided by the swift and

conciliatory action taken by the site's founders. 'The site is supposed

to be a happy affair but we take very seriously allegations like this

and are happy to co-operate as best we can,' said a spokesman (Leicester

Mercury, 13/11).



The threat of legal action from the teaching unions was deemed excessive

by some commentators.



'The NUT didn't actually say "The whole class is in detention," but it

was very close,' asserted John Walsh (The Independent, 13/11).



The reactions from Friends Reunited members was supportive, although

occasionally returning to school-yard lexicon as the preferred means of

protest.



'Hey Teachers, Leave Friends Reunited Alone!!!' and 'There's always a

few who spoil it for the rest of us' were two opinions that emerged

(GuardianTalk.co.uk, 12/11 and 14 /11).



With or without 'free-reign' (The Observer, 11/12) message boards, the

future of Friends Reunited seems assured.



Despite no marketing expenditure, the site's intrinsic appeal has

achieved a top 20 ranking in 12 months.



Analysis and commentary by Echo Research. More information can be found

at: www.echoResearch.com.



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