The nation’s largest teachers union is urging TikTok, Facebook Inc., Instagram and Twitter Inc. to take steps to halt the dissemination and spread of dangerous viral challenges and misinformation that it says pose a threat to educators and students.
In a letter sent Friday and shared with The Wall Street Journal, National Education Association President Becky Pringle asked tech leaders to make a public pledge to better regulate their platforms "to put public safety over profits."
The letter points to challenges and threats faced by educators, students and families at the start of the current academic year, when many students are returning to the classroom for the first time in more than a year and a half.
A viral TikTok challenge last month involved students vandalizing or stealing from school bathrooms. Educators now warn of a potential new challenge that dares students to slap teachers.
Simultaneously, opposition over safety protocols such as mask-wearing and Covid-19 vaccine mandates and over critical race theory have sometimes spurred vitriol against school leaders, prompting a group representing school boards to seek federal assistance in managing an influx of harassment and acts of intimidation toward board members, educators and students.
"Online ‘trends’ and false information that have spread like wildfire throughout social media platforms–from stealing school property and hitting school staff, to conspiracy theories on curriculum and coronavirus protocols–have helped create a culture of fear and violence with educators as targets," Ms. Pringle wrote, according to a copy of the letter.
"Educators are still working through a pandemic after two years," she said in the letter. "We’re all exhausted, stressed and stretched so thin it feels like we’ll crumble — and now we’re facing growing violence fueled by corporations with no oversight and no accountability to the communities they harm."
Representatives for TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter weren’t immediately available to comment on the NEA’s letter.