Police and teachers say spikes in TikTok engagement in certain subjects placing strain on public services following BBC documentary
Police leaders and teachers’ unions have said “frenzies” of engagement on TikTok are placing a strain on public services.
Their comments followed a BBC Three documentary, The TikTok Effect, that found TikTok’s algorithm was driving disproportionate engagement with videos that encouraged school vandalism and public interference with the police investigation of the disappearance of Nicola Bulley, a mortgage broker whose body was found in February.
Outside the UK, the documentary found TikTok engagement had encouraged an online obsession with a murder case in the US state of Idaho that led to innocent people being falsely accused, and had helped intensify recent riots in France.
TikTok ex-employees said in the documentary that the issue was not being resolved for fear of slowing the company’s growth.
‘Brings together communities’
TikTok users are more likely than those of other social media platforms to respond to what they see by creating their own videos, as a result of the service’s structure and business model.
TikTok said in a statement that its “algorithm brings together communities while prioritising safety” and that it recommends different types of content to interrupt repetitive patterns.
The company added that it removes “harmful misinformation” and reduces the potential reach of videos that contain unverified information.
Chief Constable Pippa Mills, the lead for communications at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, told the BBC the cases highlighted in the documentary showed TikTok could “lead to dangerous and sometimes criminal behaviour offline” that could havce an impact on criminal investigations and public services.
The chairwoman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, Donna Jones, said TikTok-inspired antisocial behaviour was putting added pressure on police.
She added that TikTok was different from other social media platforms in that “their business model is based on active participation”.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said incidents often occur outside of school but tend to spill into school time, placing a strain on teachers and school leaders.
Teachers’ union NASUWT has also said that social media platforms are “contributing to a behaviour crisis in schools”.
The government recently passed the Online Safety Bill, which aims to make social media platforms take more responsibility for the effects of their services, but the APCC’s Donna Jones said the law needed “more revisions to ensure maximum protection for young people”.