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News / Northwest

Distracting, entertaining, educating: TikTok has varied impacts at Ferris High School

By Emma Epperly, The Spokesman-Review
Published: March 24, 2023, 7:28am

SPOKANE — TikTok is like a bag of potato chips.

“You’re never really full and you’re never satisfied, you just keep going,” said John O’Dell, Ferris High School principal.

The social media platform features short videos and is known for its algorithm that tracks a user’s interests and pushes related content into their feeds. The platform rose to prominence a few years ago with viral dance trends garnering billions of views. Since then, the platform, which has 150 million users in the United States, has become a leading source for content on topics from cooking to fashion to politics.

In 2021, a rash of challenges on TikTok encouraged kids to vandalize their schools. It was also a problem locally, according to Spokane Public Schools. Threats against schools were also shared on the platform, prompting the district to email parents.

Since then, O’Dell said, vandalism has decreased, but TikTok can still affect the school environment.

“It’s distracting,” O’Dell said.

With videos on TikTok often less than a minute long, it has shorted students’ attention span, O’Dell said.

On previous popular social media platforms, like Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram, users mainly interacted with people they knew.

TikTok relies more heavily on its algorithm, meaning users don’t determine the content they see. So when a student posts a story about another student, the entire school might end up seeing it, even if they don’t know the students involved, O’Dell said.

Those issues come back to the school, he said.

Misinformation is rampant on TikTok, which has led to opportunities to teach about media literacy and source verification in the classroom, O’Dell said.

“The thing that I’m really concerned about is that these stories people bring forward on TikTok are rarely verified or sourced,” O’Dell said. “There’s something about seeing someone’s face. There’s something about seeing them earnestly report something. People can be sincerely wrong and just not have sources.”

Despite the concerns, TikTok and social media in general isn’t O’Dell’s biggest worry. He’s more worried about kids having a safe school and home environment. Students at Ferris have done a great job of reporting concerning things they see on social media to teachers or other adults, O’Dell said.

“The kids at Ferris, I’m so proud of them,” he said. “I feel like kids and adults are pulling together to create a positive climate.”

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