Editorial: Keep TikTok out of public schools

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

There’s a high school in New York starting a club that even Pitt, with more than 400 student organizations, doesn’t offer — the TikTok club.

TikTok — an app where users share, create and view short lip-synch-, comedy- and talent-centered videos — was launched in 2017 by a company in China. Since the release, it’s become an increasingly popular social network amongst tweens, young adults and even college students.

But while the popularity of the app has grown, so has the controversy surrounding it. Teenage girls are sexually harassed, and it puts many children at risk of interacting with child predators. The TikTok guidelines also ban and censor “pro-LGBT” content, right down to videos that show same sex couples holding hands. While it’s ultimately a personal choice whether or not one engages with the app for enjoyment, the New York high school club is just another reminder that the politics surrounding the app must be addressed rather than swept under the rug. TikTok should be kept out of public schools, for the emotional and physical safety of all children.

The app faced a scandal earlier this year surrounding censorship of “sexualized content,” such as children dancing suggestively or dressed in revealing outfits. Instead of erring on the side of caution and treating video subjects of an unknown age as minors, the platform’s guidelines advised the moderators to “treat subjects as though they were over 18 if their age was unclear,” according to The Guardian.

This policy is absurd, and it puts children under 18 — a large percentage of TikTok users — at great risk. Andy Burrows, the National Society for the Prevention of Children Cruelty’s head of child safety online policy, publicly expressed his concern about the way TikTok approaches censorship.

“Ultimately, TikTok needs to fundamentally reassess its attitude to handling inappropriate images of children on its site,” Burrows said. “The fact that they use wholly unsuitable language like ‘underage pornography’ and ‘sexy outfits’ to describe this horrific content speaks volumes.”

TikTok has since claimed to have reversed the policy, though their actions and methods in doing so have been vague and unclear.

The app’s LGBTQ+ prejudice can also be harmful to students who are members of the LGBTQ+ community. The most restrictive LGBTQ+ censorship guidelines are in place in countries that have strict laws against homosexuality, but the censorship has spread to countries where being part of the LGBTQ+ community is perfectly acceptable.

A club celebrating an app created by a platform that opposes certain human rights doesn’t exactly create an inviting space for all students. And while some LGBTQ+ community members may still enjoy the app, it isn’t up to us, or a school administrator, to decide what could be offensive or uninviting.

TikTok’s shady censorship policies potentially make it an unsafe space for many children. While it isn’t up to a school to dictate what students can watch on the internet individually or with their friends at home, they certainly shouldn’t be approving school clubs that are centered on the use of the app.