Edutwitter. A Dangerous Place?

Every so often, I get an email, a DM or a phone call, from someone that wants, no, needs their voice heard. Guest Blog.

TW: Online grooming.

As I am about to write this, I already feel like a fool. I start typing, read, delete and repeat. I’m not a blogger or a writer, I don’t use long, flowery words, so please forgive me. This experience is extremely difficult to articulate and write about.. but I will try my best and here it goes.

About a year and a half ago, I had a twitter account that I set up a few years ago when I was an NQT. I wasn’t a huge Twitter user at the time and dabbled in and out of Edutwitter although never became heavily involved with it. Over a couple of years, my account shifted from being focused on education to my personal account, posting photographs of what I was cooking for dinner, photos of my friends and I, rubbish jokes and puns as well as making fun of my horrendous dates from Tinder.

One day a message popped into my inbox from someone, let’s call him… Paul. Paul wrote to me ‘Hey, your tweets are so funny, they really make me laugh, how are you?’, before I reply to any message the first thing I do is suss out the person’s profile, I scroll through their tweets, look at the number of their followers, who they are following, I check to see if we have any mutual online teacher/education friends and look at their photos. Paul, quite clearly knew his stuff, a Head from London, all tweets where SLT/school-related, this was someone who had a thirst and a passion for education, however, there was one thing I did notice in particular, he had no picture. So what? Many teachers keep themselves private on Twitter. Headship is a lonely place, Twitter was a safe place for him, after a few months of this first message, I found out Twitter wasn’t a safe place for me.

Twitter was a safe place for him, after a few months of this first message, I found out Twitter wasn’t a safe place for me. Click To Tweet

I politely replied, small talk, chit chat but did not ask any questions. He messaged me again the next day, asking about my job and hobbies. This time, I tried to imagine how old Paul was, I assumed much older than myself given his position in school and/or married. After a couple of friendly messages exchanged I decided to ask him outright about his age. He told me he was thirty-four, whilst that is a young age for a Head it is possible, my previous Head was younger than that. After a few weeks of messaging, he asked for my number. I was hesitant, I didn’t know what Paul looked like but he seemed so interested in me, my job and I suppose after a while I became interested in him.

I gave him my number and immediately he sent me a Whataspp message, he sent me some photographs of what he looked like, one photo was of him standing in a school playground, suited and booted surrounded by secondary school pupils with a proud smile on his face. We Facetimed and chatted about each other’s day, he said I looked beautiful even though I was exhausted. We would speak on the phone for hours each day over a couple of months, Paul told me all about his interview for his Headship, he told me about his deputies and how two of them didn’t get along with each other. One day he told me about an NQT in the English department who was struggling so had a meeting with her and had gone to support her in her lessons. I enjoyed finding out about the ups and downs of his day and that he could vent and offload to me. I remember him telling me that a student had dislocated his shoulder and that the parents wanted to take the school to court.

Meanwhile, I was having a difficult time at work, I felt frustrated with my Head of Department for different reasons. I’d ask Paul for advice and he suggested a few things, my Head had asked to see me about my issues with my Head of Department and of course, it was something I wasn’t looking forward to. Even though I hadn’t met him yet, Paul had given me lots of support, he had run through what I should say to my Head. I’m definitely not the most diplomatic person so always tend to get flustered in situations like this but I felt confident what to say as Paul had advised me. I was getting text messages from my Head of Department and abusive messages from my ex-boyfriend, Paul told me to change my number, so I did.  Nobody had my new number apart from family, very close friends and Paul.

With a whirlwind at work and having just come out of a difficult relationship I felt that the best part of my day was talking to Paul. Every time I put the phone down I felt full of confidence and self-belief, he oozed enthusiasm and positivity. After a few more weeks, Paul said he was going to be visiting the city that I live in for a Head’s conference and asked if I’d like to meet him for a drink. I felt nervous, we had been talking every day for months and I agreed. We arranged to meet in the city and he was already there waiting for me, I slowly walked towards him and he turned around and beamed and wrapped his arms around me.

We went to a bar, it was busy but we managed to get a table, we were chatting away and he put his hand on mine and said he had something for me. The bar staff bought over a bunch of flowers, they were beautiful.  We spoke a lot about my job and that I needed to move schools, he suggested looking for a job in London and that if I could work in a London school I could work anywhere, I’d progress quickly if I wanted to work up (I hate London so that would’ve never happened). My phone ran out of battery and I had no cash on me so I used his phone to order an Uber for myself, he jumped on the train back to London. At the time, I was living with my parents, as soon as I walked through the front door with a bunch of flowers a barrage of questions followed which I avoided answering! I started to think and realised that even though I had been speaking to Paul for a few months, there was still a lot that I didn’t know about him.

Paul called me the next day and we had our usual chat however I decided I would dig a little deeper into his history. He had grown up in the city where I live and I was eager to know where and how his teaching career started. I asked him where he did his training and he would reply but not actually answer my questions. We met for a second time and he came to visit me from London, he took me to a lovely Italian restaurant which he told me it held happy memories before his mother passed away. So after our dinner, we were drinking red wine, I asked him about his school, I still didn’t know the name of his school or his second name, we had only met twice (I also wanted to read the OFSTED report for his school!). He couldn’t look at me directly in the eye and I knew something was off. He took his bank card out of his wallet to pay for the bill, so I played detective and managed to read the name on his bank card, let’s call his second name.. Smith (very original).

When I arrived home, I opened my laptop and my Google search began. No Head called Paul Smith, nothing. Not one single thing. I remembered I had the photograph of him and the students from our Whatsapp messages. I reversed searched the photograph (I had watched the programme Catfish many times!), nothing. So I turned into a ghost and vanished from Paul, I wouldn’t reply to his messages. Gut instinct is so powerful and usually, it is always right.

One evening Paul called me in desperation to talk to me again, I answered and told him I knew there was something that he wasn’t telling me. Then there were a few seconds of silence.  He said there was something but he couldn’t possibly tell me what it was. I told him if he didn’t tell me what he was keeping from me, he would never speak to me again. The first three questions I asked him were “Are you married?”. No. “Are you engaged?” No. “Do you have a family that you’ve not mentioned?” No. I remained calm although in my head my conscience was shouting “WTF” over and over again.

Now if I reveal too much detail here,  his identity will be exposed. After he told me his secret, he had been lying about his name, Paul Smith was the name on his bank card (remember Paul Smith is the name I’m using for this blog), he told me that he had legally changed his name. I asked what his previous name was and he told me. I Googled his original name and my mouth dropped open, there were articles published in the national press with his photograph and his original name. Although what he had been accused of wasn’t illegal but definitely a case of breach of trust and I’m pretty certain that no school would want him working them if they knew this information, true or not, his name and photograph had been dragged through the media with a pretty serious accusation.

I stared at his previous name, printed in bold. I felt angry at him and myself. There was no way this guy was a Head, it was all a lie. He had told me so much about his job, a complete web of lies over a few months. For someone to be able to manipulate and lie to this extent could potentially be dangerous. I changed my number, even a couple of colleagues made a comment about how much I changed my number. He knew what school I worked at, I was worried he was going to turn up outside the school gates or even turn up at my parents’ house (I remembered using his phone for an Uber). I felt like I had been groomed, even as a grown woman. I deleted my twitter account and completely disappeared. I was at work and had an email sent to my work address from a teacher who had been following me, he had guessed my work email address, I could see the numerous attempts in the ‘CC’ bar of the email. He guessed correctly and asked why I vanished. This was getting weirdier.

I moved out of my parent’s house and did move school. After a year, I made a new Twitter account, I wasn’t frightened anymore. After I gained a few followers, after a few months it became a few hundred and then thousands. My tweets occasionally get retweeted hundreds of times and I went to check Paul’s account only to find he had already found me and blocked me.

Twitter can be a great place for many, I’ve met some great educators from there and even friends and they are the people who will know my identity because they have heard my story already. However, it can also be a dangerous place. I’ve not spoken to Paul since he doesn’t deserve to be anonymous but I do. Male or Female, Look after yourself.

However, it can also be a dangerous place. I’ve not spoken to Paul since he doesn’t deserve to be anonymous but I do. Look after yourself. Click To Tweet

Me x

 

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One thought on “Edutwitter. A Dangerous Place?

  1. This was a great article. The part that struck me deeply was the part on grooming. I really think your story is a great example of the grooming process and how people will use their status online to groom others. You state, “I felt like I had been groomed, even as a grown woman.”

    It is very difficult to admit this. Victim blaming is very common and I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up with some hateful comments. I really hope you don’t. Grooming is a process EVERYONE experiences in their everyday lives. Even experts who work in sexual violence get groomed. I want to share a resource on grooming that has been very helpful to me. I encourage you and others to read Module 2: Understanding the grooming process. https://www.victimfocus.org.uk/free-caring-for-yourself-after-sexual-violence

    This person is ashamed of their past and rather than face it head on they choose to try and trick someone into caring for them first so that they will overlook the past once it becomes known. It’s probably the same kind of character flaw that got him into trouble in the first place. I’m glad you were strong enough to resist this and end the relationship. I’m sorry you went through this and I’m so glad you have shared this story so others can learn from it!

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