Dear Tech Leaders:
Educators understand the incredible potential of social media. Many of us rely on your company’s tools to create unique and engaging lessons for our students. Platforms connect people, and the open flow of information across the world has created an unprecedented opportunity to share knowledge with more people than ever before. But like all innovation, social media platforms are double-edged swords. Your companies sought to create algorithms that would increase people’s fervent use of your platforms – a pursuit of profit with no regard for its effects.
Our schools are the center of communities in every corner of our nation. They should be a safe place for every single student, educator, and staff member to thrive and learn. And yet, 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.
Now, across the nation we see social media pushing users to steal from schools, damage school property, and threatening to hit school staff just to get “likes”. Although we applaud Tik Tok for banning hashtags around this most recent trend, instances like these pop up on platforms faster than we can name them and often are only addressed after public outcry or when the glare of the media spotlight is upon them. Social media is here and has a valuable place in our society, it can bring us together, show us a glimpse of the world we might not otherwise experience and help build community—if done so thoughtfully and responsibly. That is core of the digital citizenship we teach our students, but unfortunately, it is more often the exception of what we experience. Meanwhile, these growing trends put the safety and learning of all our students and staff at risk.
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. 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. The speed and reach of these lies that are manipulating so many of our citizens would not be possible without the use of social media platforms.
These radicals have attacked educators from California to Texas over wearing a mask. They made a nazi salute in Illinois at a school board meeting discussing COVID protocols. They brought zip ties to try and abduct a principal in Arizona for following coronavirus quarantine policies. They doxxed a teacher in Vermont, accusing him of teaching “anti-American” ideas. These are just some examples of menacing behavior spreading across the country. This rising tide of violence must be stopped before even more educators get harmed. The fact that our students are watching this behavior, and in some cases replicating it, makes it all the more destructive to the foundational importance of public education and peaceful, free civic discourse.
The United States Justice Department recognized the extent of this crisis, stepped up, and has mobilized an entire new task force and issued a directive to investigate violence against educators. We applaud this effort and will support the U.S. government in its mission to protect our educators. But where is the urgency from the very companies that have helped fuel the conspiracies causing attacks? Our schools should be centers of learning, and your platforms have helped turn them into centers of a culture war.
We’re calling on your companies to take this threat seriously and prioritize the safety of people over profits – you can help put an end to the stream of propaganda fueling violence against educators in our communities. Your companies have both the power and responsibility to stamp out disinformation and violent trends – for the sake of Public Education and the future of democracy. To that end, we’re demanding that your companies make a public pledge to students, educators, and their families to regulate lies and fix your algorithms to put public safety over profits.
Our nation’s educators are still working through a pandemic after two years. 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. Social media platforms were created to bring people together – with your help we can build a better tomorrow and stronger school communities where everyone can thrive.