TikTok abuse of teachers 'a kick in the teeth', union says

A trend of using TikTok to mock teachers has been slammed by union bosses

A trend of using TikTok to mock teachers has been slammed by union bosses - Credit: Archant

A trend of pupils using TikTok to mock and harass their teachers has been slammed as "a kick in the teeth" for the region's hard-working educators.

National reports of youngsters taking to the video-based social media platform and posting "disgraceful abuse" has prompted government information following reports from a headteachers' union.

And union bosses locally have slammed the practice, with a handful of reports in Norfolk including one teacher accused of being a paedophile.

Scott Lyons, district secretary of the National Education Union's Norfolk branch, said he had received reports from members who were deeply hurt by what they had seen.

Scott Lyons. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Scott Lyons. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

Mr Lyons said: "It really is a growing concern. It is generally happening in secondary schools and has apparently been going on for quite some time.

"One member who contacted me had seen a video that included accusations that they were a paedophile and this kind of thing obviously has a huge impact.

"It really feels like a kick in the teeth after all of the hard work teachers have put in during the pandemic trying to keep pupils connected with their school communities."

Most Read

The trend has taken a variety of forms, with videos often including pictures downloaded through school websites and manipulated using add-ons like Face App.

While some appear playful, including having teachers "sing along" to various songs, others take on more sinister forms.

There were also reports during lockdown of recordings being taken of virtual lessons and reused for TikTok videos, posted on accounts hidden behind pseudonyms.

And it is the anonymity that make them particularly problematic for schools.

Mr Lyons added: "The schools I have spoken to about it have been incredibly supportive, but equally a big problem is the accounts are often anonymised. Not knowing where they are and where they have come from makes things equally difficult for the school.

"Schools have to be very prepared to support their teachers through this and the sanctions given to those responsible have to reflect that - but they are incredibly hard to trace."

Ina Coubrough, assistant principal in charge of behaviour, attendance and safeguarding at Hellesdon High School, said: "We teach all our students about online safety and how to conduct themselves online. Our school also has a long-standing mobile phone ban, which further supports online safety and helps young people to manage their social media consumption.

"Like many other schools, we monitor and report any inappropriate videos, but we need to see a quicker response from TikTok when it comes to removing abusive content. We are pleased to see the Department for Education taking steps to encourage this." 

The issue has been flagged up nationally by Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders and a former Suffolk headteacher.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL headteacher union.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL headteacher union. - Credit: Archant

He said: "Over the past couple of weeks, school staff have suffered disgraceful abuse through messages and imagery posted on the social media platform TikTok.

"We do not know how widespread this is but we have received over 50 reports, and we suspect there are many more.

"These posts are often defamatory and offensive, and some are homophobic.

"The material is extremely distressing for the staff who are targeted and young people who are posting it are involved in behaviour which could lead to them being excluded from school and, in extreme cases, being the subject of a police investigation."

A government spokeswoman told the Press Association that it is "engaging with TikTok on the steps being taken by them to address this issue involving teachers".

She added: "We are clear that social media companies need to take action against harmful content on their platforms and we are introducing laws which will usher in a new era of accountability for these social media companies."

TikTok, the social media app, on an iPhone. Picture: Sarah Ravencroft

TikTok, the social media app, on an iPhone. Picture: Sarah Ravencroft - Credit: Sarah Ravencroft

A TikTok spokeswoman said: "At TikTok, we take all reports of hate speech or bullying and harassment extremely seriously.

"Our community guidelines make clear that we do not tolerate content that contains bullying or harassment, statements targeting an individual, or hateful speech or behaviour, and we remove content that violates these guidelines."

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter