Social media is undermining education, says the AFT. What needs to change?

"We are glad to work with educators, students, families and medical professionals on this set of recommendations, but it is not enough for us to simply endorse these improvements," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

At a time when student mental health has reached levels worse than ever before, educators are calling out those to blame for this crisis. According to the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers union in the country, social media is the “root cause” of it all.

In a new report titled “Likes vs. Learning: The Real Cost of Social Media for Schools,” the AFT describes the toll—particularly surrounding youth mental health—certain online technologies have taken on students both in and outside of the classroom as students partake in the “unregulated environment” known as social media.

“We now know that social media is one of the root causes of this problem,” the report reads. “While we acknowledge that social media has both great benefits and great limitations, the principles set forth in this document focus squarely on its limitations.”

The report serves as a reality check to social media companies that need to make “fundamental changes” to their platforms so that students’ and educators’ lives may be improved as a result. According to the report, social media companies should adhere to the following five principles:

  • Prioritize children’s safety
  • Protect students from becoming addicted
  • Protect students’ privacy
  • Protect students from risky algorithms
  • Engage and work directly with K12 schools and parents

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The report comes at a time when a number of notable school districts, the first being Seattle Public Schools in January, are suing social media giants for their role in exacerbating the youth mental health crisis. But educators can’t be the only ones to protect students from this risk, Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT explained in a statement. Social media platforms must first hold themselves accountable.

“We are glad to work with educators, students, families and medical professionals on this set of recommendations, but it is not enough for us to simply endorse these improvements,” she said. “Social media companies must act to ensure their products are designed with our kids’ safety in mind and reflect the challenges kids face at home and in the classroom.”

As a result, school districts have been forced to allocate valuable resources designed to combat social media’s toll on students, including:

  • Hiring additional support staff, such as school counselors and psychologists.
  • Increase professional development for school staff to identify symptoms of poor mental health.
  • Addressing student behavior.
  • Repairs to damaged school property as a result of students acting out.

“Our schools shouldn’t have to devote precious resources to cleaning up the mess caused by social media companies’ reckless pursuit of profit,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay in a statement. “It is past time for tech companies to take responsibility for the harms they cause to young people’s mental health and learning, and for Congress to require them to put children’s interests first in the design and operation of their platforms.”

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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