How A Potential TikTok Ban May Affect Classrooms

The TikTok logo with a slash through it, denoting a TikTok ban
(Image credit: Future)

On April 24, 2024, U.S. President Joe Biden signed a law that could potentially ban the popular app TikTok if it is not sold by its Chinese-owned technology company ByteDance within twelve months. 

The law will not disrupt the popular app in the immediate future as it is expected to be met with legal challenges and other delays. However, a TikTok ban eventually could have a significant impact on classrooms as both students and teachers have embraced the platform for instruction and learning.

Tech & Learning reached out to our advisors and regular contributors for their takes on how the absence of TikTok might play out.

How do you think a TikTok ban will impact classrooms and education?

Erik Ofgang, author and adjunct professor, Western Connecticut State University 

When it comes to TikTok I'm more Boomer than my actual generation (Millennial), and have never found using TikTok to be enjoyable, but from what I hear it's a hit with the kids as well as many educators who are more open to new media than I am. For them, losing TikTok will be huge. 

If the ongoing collapse of Twitter/X taught us anything, it's that communities that have formed on one platform don't necessarily migrate to other platforms, even if those other platforms have more or less the same capabilities. It's kind of like when a beloved bar or hangout closes, the scene could move somewhere else in town but very rarely does.

Carl Hooker, education consultant

I don't think a TikTok ban will impact classrooms or education greatly. I think some of the features of TikTok, such as creating short-form video instructions, are helpful to students and teachers. Kids (and adults) are greatly captivated by short-form videos, which can be distracting and unproductive (although fun in the moment). Users will gravitate toward YouTube Shorts or Instagram Reels to satisfy this craving in lieu of TikTok. 

I also predict that the void left by a TikTok ban will likely be filled by another company much like what's happening with Twitter/X at the moment. All-in-all, I would say a TikTok ban will have little impact (negatively or positively) on education.

Todd Dugan, Superintendent, Bunker Hill, Illinois

It won't have an impact. It will just be replaced by another app.

Mike Afdahl, Coordinator of Tech Services, Northwest GA RESA

It is a place for entertainment, but also a driver of culture. Similar to how TV and movies were a driver of culture from the 1950s to early 2000s, TikTok drives culture among our middle and high school students. Banning that will have an impact in removing that platform of culture formation. 

However, FB/Instagram/YouTube were (and are) drivers of culture prior to TikTok, and these may fill that void. These things are cyclical, as I remember logging onto AOL Instant Messenger in my younger days.

It also removes a content creator site, which many educators use to get ideas, share similar struggles/successes, and build community around a content creator/topic.

Stephanie Smith Budhai, Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum, Drexel University

Regardless of which side of the TikTok ban you are on, the field of education will be impacted. The ban presents an opportunity for educators, administrators, families, and communities to look deeply at the use of similar social media technologies, focusing not only on the academic benefits of its use, but what using these tools means for information sharing, potential misinformation and disinformation, and privacy.

Michael Gaskell, author and Principal, Central Elementary School, East Brunswick, NJ

My answer is broken into two parts to recognize the dichotomy of advantage and concern associated with TikTok, and other social media sources in general. 

Being the father of two teenage girls, I have learned that much of their personal research is often organized around social media access points, such as TikTok. For instance, they may discover a recipe that is appealing that we try from TikTok. Or they may discover a nearby must-visit destination that is little known to us and may not have been a discovery of ours without their use of Tik Tok. And these are just personal examples. Students on TikTok are discovering ways to solve math problems, construct a persuasive essay, and even get advice on how to appropriately interact in an interview.

These are just a few of the many advantages students gain when using TikTok and other social media sources. Clearly, the interface has become a popular destination for them, and the attraction and appeal of the way information is communicated is working. 

On the other hand, with benefits come challenges. Recently, social media CEOs testified before the Senate about known and research-evidence about how social media was causing harm to children. Tragically, some even lost their lives due to destructive impacts of toxic social media. 

We know that bullying persists on social media and monitoring student behavior can be difficult. Students often feel anonymous and experience the "disinhibition effect," a way people can disassociate from their real selves and become a much worse version online. We see this happen every day, and TikTok is no exception. 

Much of the attention is focused on the concerns of security and international exposure of information on Tik Tok. The more immediate concern rests with known harms done to children. Best summarized in a timeless classic, former president Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Comparison is the thief of joy." A great challenge children face today is always feeling like they have to be on top of their game on social media. They get no rest or breaks from this. It's constant, 24/7, and they aren't sleeping well because they're glued to their phones under their pillow. 

Certainly, these issues need to be addressed and while the restriction on TikTok is an attempt, the answer is in how we manage social media and the impacts on children in general. Leverage the advantages, and teach and minimize the disadvantages. These are the solutions that will work long term.

Ray Bendici is the Managing Editor of Tech & Learning and Tech & Learning University. He is an award-winning journalist/editor, with more than 20 years of experience, including a specific focus on education.