Legal: The risks of being Insta-famous
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 3, 11 May 2020, page no. 25
Members leading an alluring double-life as an Instagram influencer must be careful not to neglect their public service obligations as a teacher employed by the Department of Education.
As an aspiring or verified influencer, promoting goods on your Instagram can place you at risk of breaching policies against conflicts of interest.
For those of you more involved in the #teachersofinstagram space, sharing and selling learning resources can also place you at risk of breaching the department’s intellectual property rights in those materials.
In any event, when using Instagram you should always be mindful of the department’s social media policy.
Conflicts of interest generally
A conflict of interest occurs when private interests actually interfere, could interfere, or could be perceived to interfere with your work as a teacher. Private interests include both monetary and non-monetary interests, such as other sources of income.
As a matter of public policy, the public has a right to expect that all public officials will perform their duties in a fair and unbiased way, and that the decisions they make are not affected by self-interest, private affiliations, or the likelihood of personal gain or loss.
To meet these expectations, any conflicts of interest must be identified, disclosed and managed in a transparent and accountable manner.
Promoting products on Instagram
If you are promoting goods on Instagram and are being paid, or at least get to keep the goods you promote, you will likely have a conflict of interest because you have received other sources of income or gratuitous gifts. It will not matter whether you are promoting these goods on a personal account, separate from your role as a teacher.
It is department policy that as soon as you recognise that a conflict of interest might exist, you must complete the declaration of interests form and submit it to your supervisor or principal.
After making this declaration, it will be up to your supervisor or principal to determine whether a conflict of interest exists, and how it should be managed and monitored.
For more information, see the department’s policy on conflict of interest.
Going one step further, if you consistently promote goods on Instagram for one or more particular companies, this may also be seen as engaging in other employment outside the Department of Education.
It is department policy that all employees must disclose the details of any alternative work they undertake. To do this, you must complete the notification of other employment form and submit it to your principal before beginning the other work.
Teacher-influencers: sharing ideas and resources
Creating influence by sharing #nofilter photos of an aesthetic classroom are likely to be safe from breaching any department policies, although students should not feature in any photos.
However, sharing colourful learning resources or class materials you have prepared may run the risk of breaching the department’s intellectual property rights in that material. The general rule is that the employer may claim the product is theirs where an employee:
- uses the employer’s resources to produce something of value (e.g. if you use your department laptop or even the department’s email system)
- produces that product during work hours
- uses the product as part of their employment.
That means you can be required to hand over both the product and any income you have made from selling it. For example, if you have prepared a class worksheet in your work time, or for your class, the department may claim it belongs to them. Posting a photo of this worksheet on Instagram will likely breach the department’s rights in the product.
If you decide to sell your materials however, in order to retain ownership of their materials you should:
- take care to complete the notification of other employment form
- write the material at home or on a personal computer
- write the material in personal time
- not use the material during your work.
Keep everything completely separate, and the intellectual property will be yours.
You should also be careful about who you are selling your products to. While there is no restriction on selling to private schools, you should not sell any of your products to Queensland state schools while you are an employee of the department. There is a criminal offence that prevents you from doing so. If you resign from your employment however, you are free to sell to state schools.
Unsure of what to do?
If you are unsure of what you can and cannot do as an influencer, contact the QTU at email@example.com or 1300 117 823.