Don't piss off the teachers.
The National Education Association (NEA), a labor union representing educators of all kinds across the U.S., warned the CEOs of three major social media companies that their respective platforms encourage and amplify dangerous trends among their student users. And the teachers aren't afraid to name names.
In a letter addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew (and published by the Wall Street Journal), NEA president Rebecca S. Pringle argued that social media platforms' policies are not only driving kids to devious licks, but actually put teachers in real danger.
"[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," she wrote in the Oct. 8 letter.
A Twitter spokesperson told Mashable that the company had received the NEA's letter, and "[intended] to respond." We also reached out to Facebook and TikTok for comment, but received no immediate reply.
The NEA letter appeared to be in response to recent student-led social media trends making the news. Some, like the aforementioned devious licks trend which saw kids boosting school property like soap dispensers for social media likes, were relatively harmless. Others, like the so-called "slap a teacher" TikTok trend would be less so, if they were real — which, at least in the case of the slap trend, it's not clear that it is.
However, as per usual, it appears that it's not the kids that we should actually be worried about.
Pringle's letter called out another social media-inspired danger she said is affecting educators: parents.
"Take for example, the alarming growth of a small but violent group of radicalized adults who falsely believe that graduate level courses about racism are being taught in K-12 public schools because of misinformation spread on social media," she wrote in likely reference to an online debate around critical race theory. "And there are another small yet vocal group of extremists who are putting the safety of our children, educators, and families at risk over the notion that wearing a mask is in infringement on personal liberty."
In other words, while the dumb trends may get headlines, social media radicalizing parents is perhaps a greater threat to teachers' safety — a topic very much on the nation's mind following Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen's Tuesday testimony to the U.S. Senate.
And according to the NEA, which is "demanding" a public safety pledge from Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, the teachers are not going to let this slide. Maybe, with a bit of luck, they can even get that demand trending.