Major social media platforms spread misinformation, embolden students to damage school property, and stoke political extremists— all in the name of their bottom-lines, the head of the nation’s largest teachers’ union argues.
Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, have allowed “online ‘trends’ and false information to spread like wildfire … [creating] a culture of fear and violence with educators as targets,” Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association wrote in a letter to the heads of all three companies Oct. 8. (Facebook also owns Instagram.)
Pringle cited a recent TikTok trend, “Devious Licks,” which encouraged students to record themselves vandalizing school property. Another challenge may be inspiring students to slap their teachers, though a leading online myth buster says there’s no evidence to show the trend exists. And the “outlet challenge” promoted on the site spurred students to place a phone charger near an electrical outlet, then drop a penny between the outlet and the charger prongs, resulting in a share-worthy spark. That trend damaged school outlets and could have started fires.
What’s more, the platforms have allowed a “small but violent group of radicalized adults” to attack teachers for addressing critical race theory. Other “extremists” have used social media to fight vehemently against mask mandates that are put in place to protect students and teachers from COVID-19, Pringle said.
“The speed and reach of these lies that are manipulating so many of our citizens would not be possible without the use of social media platforms,” Pringle wrote. “Our schools should be centers of learning, and your platforms have turned them into centers of a culture war.”
She called on the companies to publicly pledge to students, educators, and families that they will “regulate lies and fix algorithms to put public safety over profits.”
The letter comes less than a week after Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, testified before a Senate panel. Haugen released internal documents showing the company was aware of the impact it is having on children’s mental health, body image, and the spread of misinformation, but it isn’t doing anything to curb those problems.
TikTok is removing content related to the vandalism challenge. The platform moves quickly to take down any content that violates its community guidelines, including illegal activity, a spokeswoman said. The company has a user’s guide for parents and teachers, developed with the National Parent Teacher’s Association to help them better navigate the platform.
Representatives for Facebook and Twitter did not immediately respond to inquiries about the letter.