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State AG rips TikTok for ‘dangerous content’, seeks to get in front of latest challenge: ‘Slap a Teacher’

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A social media platform popular with American children, TikTok, has come under fire for its latest viral trend, the “Slap a Teacher” challenge, that has led one state attorney general to call for a meeting with the platform’s leadership.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong (D) called on TikTok executives to meet with concerned teachers and parents in his own state to address the challenge and more broad reforms that are needed to protect the mental and physical safety of the children who use the app.

“TikTok fails to control the spread of dangerous content. In CT, vandalism closed schools and the new ‘Slap a Teacher’ challenge may put educators at risk. I am urging TikTok to come to CT to meet with educators and parents and commit to reforms that stop this reckless content,” Tong wrote in a tweet.

The challenge has yet to garner popularity, though it is set to begin this month and is one of many “challenges” posted to the platform that children are urged to participate in through both videos on the site and, secondarily, peer pressure.

There have been no reports of Connecticut students having attempted the challenge yet, but one elementary school student in South Carolina did follow through with the viral “trend,” local outlet WYFF reported.

“Unfortunately, the challenge that has been put out for this month is to slap or hit a staff member from behind. Sadly, we actually had an elementary student assault a teacher by striking her in the back of the head,” the school district told parents.

The “Slap a Teacher” challenge calls for students to calmly approach a teacher before physically assaulting them.

The Connecticut AG requested a meeting with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew in his letter where he highlighted his concerns for Connecticut’s youth who are partaking in criminal challenges under the guise of social media trends.

Last month, the “Devious Licks” challenge was spotlighted and required that students vandalize and steal public property. Unsurprisingly, many teens carried out this challenge at their schools.

TikTok did eventually take action to remove the “Devious Licks” challenge, which Tong commended them for.

“Now, there is a new concern that a viral ‘Slap a Teacher’ may be putting educators at risk. Families and educators are already coping with the unprecedented social and emotional fallout of the pandemic. The last thing anyone needs right now is for children to be inundated by targeted social media encouraging lawlessness, self-harm and reckless, dangerous behavior,” Tong wrote in his letter.

Tong highlighted the numerous other effects the social media platform has on impressionable children and teens,  pointing to “youth overdosing on medications, disfiguring their bodies, and engaging in a wide variety of physically dangerous acts.”

“Simply put, whatever TikTok has been doing to enforce its terms of service has not been working and merits serious review and reform. I ask that you share a detailed description of all policies and procedures in place to prevent against abuse and misuse of your platform,” Tong stated.

Last summer, President Trump tried to ban the platform due to privacy concerns and worries that data from American users was being shared with the Chinese government. The ban never came to fruition after being barred by a federal judge.

Adults and lawmakers’ concern over the impact of TikTok on America’s children and teens follows a recent, explosive Wall Street Journal report that found that Instagram and parent company Facebook are well aware of the harmful impact their platforms have on teens, especially young girls.

Thus far, TikTok has not released a public response to Tong’s letter. However, as more negative data and anecdotal evidence come to light surrounding the harmful effects of social media on kids, reforms will undoubtedly be called for to protect that nation’s youth, already suffering the impact of social isolation thanks to the pandemic.

Kay Apfel

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