Teachers in the UK have reported a disturbing new classroom trend. Students have been secretly recording clips from their lessons and uploading them to the TikTok video social media network.

This may sound quite harmless, but teachers are warning that the videos are often accompanied by inappropriate or abusive comments. Clips are typically shared among students – but they can be viewed by any TikTok users.

With more than two million users worldwide, TikTok videos have an enormous potential audience. One teacher reports that the videos they appeared in have been viewed more than 12 million times.

This issue is not restricted to high schools and colleges. Similar videos have also been reported by teachers working in junior schools with much younger children.

Harassment and bullying is reported to the police

Teachers appearing in these videos have reported the issue to TikTok. The social network has promised to investigate every report and to take extra measures to remove videos.

Teaching unions are warning students and parents that these videos are not harmless pranks and that they make teachers uncomfortable. Some of the content is quite mild, but other are “clearly criminal content”.

Several UK police forces have confirmed that they are investigating videos that have been reported by teachers and schools. They have warned that students who are found to be sharing illegal content targeting their tutors could be expelled from school – and maybe even prosecuted.

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Parents are urged to assist

Usually, these offensive TikTok videos are shared by children without their parents’ knowledge. However, schools are asking parents to get involved in the fight against offensive content.

First, they point out that TikTok users must be at least 13 years of age. This means that primary school students are already banned from using the platform.

Second, anyone under the age of 18 must have parental permission before they are allowed to create a TikTok account. This gives parents an important opportunity to discuss acceptable use of social media with their children.

One teaching union representative explained that they believe “young people may be competing with each other by making potentially defamatory comments without thinking of the stress they are causing.” They called on parents to help children think through the implications of creating and sharing attack videos before doing something that hurts and offends their teachers.

Like other social media companies, TikTok is facing calls from professional bodies (and the government) to better regulate and remove offensive content from their platform. Some unions are calling for harsher penalties for any platform found to be hosting videos that cause offense to their members.

Although generally harmless and great fun, there is a downside to TikTok when it is misused. But with help and guidance, school children can be taught the consequences of their actions before they commit a crime online – and that will be an important lesson that carries them forwards into adulthood.