The online platform has been a breeding ground for male abuse by students
After eighteen months of disrupted learning, cancelled exams and Covid u-turns, teachers now face a new problem: Tiktok. Reports have been circulating for weeks of teachers being harassed on the social media app; staff have been filmed, impersonated, rated, photoshopped onto pornographic images and accused of everything from homophobia to racism. One video, filmed more than 650,000 times, claims a teacher is “trying to prove he isn’t a paedo.”
This new TikTok ‘trend’ is needlessly cruel, humiliating and distressing; it is no surprise that many teachers who have been targeted have taken sick leave or left altogether.
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The videos are a malicious manifestation of many social problems: the lack of respect and deference towards teachers; the slowness and indifference of Big Tech, whose algorithms continue to promote slanderous content; and the inability of schools and parents to effectively control and monitor social media use. Punishments are hard to administer when posts come from anonymous accounts, and police investigations are only an option if the content is criminal.
Female teachers are far from immune from the abuse (I once worked with a female teacher who was secretly filmed on Snapchat and became an unfortunate meme), but a quick glance at the #paedo hashtag on TikTok (I wouldn’t recommend it) shows that male teachers are much more likely to be defamed in this way.
Being a male teacher can be hard enough already. All teachers are worried about safeguarding themselves as well as their pupils, but there is undeniably a different dimension for men. For example, one male colleague told me once that he was nervous about calling out female students on their uniform (for example, telling them to unroll their skirts) for fear of potential backlash after another male colleague was wrongly accused of looking at a student’s legs.
This worry may be genuine, but in the controlled environment of a school accusations are easier to monitor and investigate whereas online they are insidious and intractable. Teachers, or those who are considering the profession, may look at these TikTok stories and decide that the job simply isn’t worth the hassle; on top of the heavy workload, long hours, relentless behaviour issues of students and pay freezes, the potential for online abuse may simply be too much.
We need teachers, and in particular we need male teachers. Around 26% of teachers in the UK are men: 38% in secondary school and only 15% in primary. There are many reasons for this imbalance, including the lingering stereotype that teaching is a ‘feminine’ profession because it involves nurturing and more family-friendly schedules. However, it hasn’t always been this way.
The sad reality is that male teachers can provide a positive role model for the many students who do not have one at home, and as girls continue to outperform boys in exams, male teachers are needed now more than ever. Teachers deserve to feel protected from online bullying, harassment and slander, and male teachers in particular shouldn’t have to fear being called a ‘paedo’ and having their reputations and livelihoods ruined by baseless accusations.