The growing popularity of social media is not just an issue for teachers – the rise of sites such as Twitter and Facebook is also causing difficulties for unwary politicians, sportspeople and celebrities.
Labour MP Diane Abbott was forced to apologise this month after a tweet about white people led to accusations of racism. This was quickly followed by a posting from her party leader, Ed Miliband, who mistakenly entered "Blackbusters" in a tweet expressing sadness at the death of former Blockbusters host Bob Holness.
Many sportspeople have also fallen foul of the unguarded post, including Kevin Pietersen, who was fined after describing his omission from England's one day cricket squad as a "fuck-up".
According to experts, these cases highlight a failure by people in high-profile positions to grasp the realities of "social self-publishing".
Kieran Hannon, director of social media consultancy eSocialMedia, said society was in "a transition period", where many senior figures had grasped the significance of social media but were still grappling with when and how to use it. "I am 30 and my friends' kids are talking to 10 or 15 of their friends on Skype conference calls, they are on their Xbox chatting to their friends, they have got their Facebook on the mobiles, they are BlackBerry messaging – they are networked up to the gills.
"A lot of executives and senior professionals at the moment are using these channels to communicate and they are just getting there, but they are not natural, they are not digital natives and that is where the issues arise."
Nearly all large businesses and organisations have drawn up extensive social media guidelines for employees that range from Apple's clear guidelines on what employees can say on social media to those who encourage everyone to get involved.
However, Mark Higginson, director of social media at digital marketing agency icrossing, said that lengthy guidelines and contracts drawn up by inhouse lawyers would count for less than a "cultural shift" in the way people understood and used social media.
"At the moment almost every company and profession has – or is drawing up – detailed guidelines about social media and when and how it should be used," said Higginson, "but in the end I think it will be the emergence of a more general social contract about how to use these new tools that will change the way we think about and use social media."
Higginson said successful use of sites such as Twitter, which says it transmits around 250 million tweets a day, "boils down to one very simple rule, don't do anything on social media that may later embarrass you or the company you work for".Hannon said he expected the number of gaffes on social media sites to dwindle as "digital natives" – teenagers who have grown up with and understand the medium – take up positions of power.
"It is just a matter of people being able to behave the way they do normally online and understanding the environment they are in and being able to make the correct decisions – understanding that Google never forgets and that they are talking on a megaphone. Once people can bring the social skills they have in a face-to-face capacity online then this noise will reduce."