Earlier this month former Facebook employee Frances Haugen told Congress that Facebook has a negative impact on teenagers, creates divisiveness, and consistently chooses profit over safety. During her testimony up on Capitol Hill, Haugen produced thousands of internal documents containing some rather alarming data. For example, 13.5% of teenage girls said Instagram worsens suicidal thoughts, and 17% said Instagram contributes to their eating disorders. Ms. Haugen also likened the addictive nature of Facebook and Instagram to that of cigarettes. Not surprisingly she called on Congress to reign in, regulate, and reform the social media giant. But as harmful as Facebook can be to kids, there is another platform that may be worse. It’s called Tik Tok.
Tik Tok is a social networking service that encourages young people across the globe to produce and post all sorts of narcissistic videos. Granted, most of the videos are merely obnoxious, but others are obscene, cruel, and encourage violent behavior. The latest Tik Tok craze is a series of challenges whereby students are encouraged to vandalize school property and worse. One such challenge tells students to have a bowel movement, then smear their feces on school walls. A Triad area parent recently told me about a student in her son’s school who took the challenge, and engaged in fecal smearing, then got caught when someone posted the dirty deed on video. Ironically, the mother of the vandal wasn’t upset about the fecal incident, rather she was angry that once the video went viral, her son had to endure cyberbullying from students who disapproved of the boy’s stunt.
And then there’s the “Devious Licks Challenge” and “Slap a Teacher Challenge” which have educators across the country concerned for their safety, and rightly so. Already a school teacher in South Carolina has been victimized by the challenge when a student slapped her in the back of the head. Then last week, a 64-year-old, wheelchair-bound teacher was attacked by a Louisiana high school student. Meanwhile, incidents of vandalism continue, with over a half dozen States reporting damage to and theft of school property. In Connecticut, these challenges have caused so much concern that Attorney General William Tong has asked Tik Tok executives to meet with parents and educators to work together to prevent any further incidents.
Such cooperation is certainly welcome, but I’m not so sure it will net any substantive results. For example, one school district in Oklahoma sent the following message to parents: "If your child uses social media, please talk to him/her about being socially responsible and kind.” It’s a nice thought, but a bit naïve, and probably too little too late. That’s because, as MyParentingJournal.com points out, “Parents must teach these things to their children at an early age.” Granted I grew up in the 1950s, but my parents drilled common sense into my head before I ever started school. I knew from age 5 not to cross the street unless I looked both ways first. I was taught not to get into a car with a stranger. And, I was taught to respect my elders, which included not slapping them in the back of the head. And please don’t tell me that I’m too old to understand “influencers” just because social media didn’t exist 68 years ago. Kids have always been susceptible to influence of one kind or another, and from all sorts of people, old and young alike. However, if they learn common sense and common courtesy early on, then they are less likely to blindly follow anyone or anything that doesn’t pass the smell test (fecal smearing notwithstanding). The problem is that not even teaching a child right from wrong guarantees that those lessons will stick. According to AConsciousRethink.com, “Some people are better at judging cause and effect than others, or understanding the consequences of their actions.” Of course, that’s true, which is all the more reason to believe that emails to parents won’t solve this problem.
Just as Frances Haugen called on Congress to reform Facebook, so too must we demand that Tik Tok and all other such platforms be regulated. Fortunately, our elected officials are finally becoming woke to the dangers of social media, and hopefully, their new found awareness will lead to a swift crack-down on anyone who presents or facilitates the dissemination of harmful material. So, beware Tik Tok, your day of reckoning may be coming soon. The handwriting is on your fecally smeared wall.