Our Concerns About Social Media’s Major Downsides

Type: Article
Topics: School Administrator Magazine, Technology

November 01, 2022


Last year, educators learned firsthand about the emergence of a TikTok trend known as “Devious Licks.” School-aged children would video themselves stealing school supplies such as bathroom soap and paper towel dispensers. It evolved into more serious forms of vandalism as perpetrators attempted to outdo each other. At one school, a classroom was totally vandalized when the scheduled teacher was absent.

Devious Licks evolved into the “Slap a Teacher Challenge.” Students were captured on video slapping teachers. Those students suffered the consequences, but so did teachers who responded in kind.

Another popular social app is Snapchat, owing to its disappearing message feature. It has been used by students to share their compromising photos. Others use it to engage in cyberbullying. To gain revenge, it’s also used when a couple breaks up and they have compromising images of the other. In many cases, these individuals are minors.

Legal Protection

The Wall Street Journal reported more than a year ago (Sept. 14, 2021) that Facebook had been conducting studies into how its photo-sharing app, Instagram, affects its millions of young users, claiming that “repeatedly, the company’s researchers found that Instagram is harmful for a sizable percentage of them, most notably teenage girls.” This raises several potential dangers, such as cyberbullying, body image issues, low self-esteem and stalking.

Instagram is also a popular tool used by students who create accounts that by name may simulate a school account to spread rumors and dubious information about others. Many of these accounts have been used to harass and falsely accuse educators.

Social media also has played a role in court cases regarding what schools can do to curb questionable practices by students. In Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., the U.S. Supreme Court held that because a public school district failed to demonstrate that a student’s off-campus profanity-laced social media post denouncing the school and its cheer team actually “materially disrupted” the learning environment, the school violated the student’s First Amendment rights when it suspended her from the cheer team based on the social media post.

Clearly, the problems created by student use of social media seem to outweigh the benefits. Consequently, while in recent years schools had begun to allow students to use cellphones while in school, that practice is being reversed. CBS News reported recently that Tyler Rablin, a high school teacher in Sunnyside, Wash., who once encouraged phones in the classroom as a learning tool, has now reversed himself, claiming that “the phone is no longer a passive tool, now actively and intentionally working against the goals of learning, of having a productive and meaningful life.”

Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools updated its policy on cellphone use at schools for 2022-23, indicating that “the new cellphone expectations were established to help foster a learning environment that is conducive to learning.” Although usage is differentiated by grade level, phones must be silenced and put away for the duration of the school day. However, teachers may allow student usage of cellphones for instructional activities when appropriate.

Corporate Failings

On the positive side, social media became a powerful tool during the initial period of the pandemic when most students were at home participating in virtual learning activities. Instagram became a popular tool for teachers to maintain communication with their students. Many teachers also used TikTok to create mini-instructional activities. These practices have continued as students have returned to in-person learning.

Social media also can be a powerful ally in learning recovery. Teachers can post activities that their students can do at home after the school day or during vacation periods. The negative attitude that remote learning received during the initial period of the pandemic can be overcome by the significant improvement in the online delivery of instruction. If student addiction can be controlled, social media can play a beneficial role in that process.

Recently, AASA joined the Consortium for School Networking and the National School Public Relations Association by endorsing a joint letter of concern to major social media platforms addressing the fact many school districts find it impossible to verify their official social media accounts on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter or to get a company response to reported social media accounts and posts that harm schools, students and educators.

We question whether their platforms provide a dedicated process for federally recognized K-12 education institutions to report social media posts and accounts that harass, intimidate, bully or otherwise negatively target their students.