First-known TikTok mob attack led by middle schoolers tormenting teachers

A bunch of eighth graders in a “wealthy Philadelphia suburb” recently targeted teachers with an extreme online harassment campaign that The New York Times reported was “the first known group TikTok attack of its kind by middle schoolers on their teachers in the United States.”

According to The Times, the Great Valley Middle School students created at least 22 fake accounts impersonating about 20 teachers in offensive ways. The fake accounts portrayed long-time, dedicated teachers sharing “pedophilia innuendo, racist memes,” and homophobic posts, as well as posts fabricating “sexual hookups among teachers.”

The Pennsylvania middle school’s principal, Edward Souders, told parents in an email that the number of students creating the fake accounts was likely “small,” but that hundreds of students piled on, leaving comments and following the fake accounts. Other students responsibly rushed to report the misconduct, though, Souders said.

“I applaud the vast number of our students who have had the courage to come forward and report this behavior,” Souders said, urging parents to “please take the time to engage your child in a conversation about the responsible use of social media and encourage them to report any instances of online impersonation or cyberbullying.”

Some students claimed that the group attack was a joke that went too far. Certain accounts impersonating teachers made benign posts, The Times reported, but other accounts risked harming respected teachers’ reputations. When creating fake accounts, students sometimes used family photos that teachers had brought into their classrooms or scoured the Internet for photos shared online.

Following The Times’ reporting, the superintendent of the Great Valley School District (GVSD), Daniel Goffredo, posted a message to the community describing the impact on teachers as “profound.” One teacher told The Times that she felt “kicked in the stomach” by the students’ “savage” behavior, while another accused students of slander and character assassination. Both were portrayed in fake posts with pedophilia innuendo.

“I implore you also to use the summer to have conversations with your children about the responsible use of technology, especially social media,” Goffredo said. “What seemingly feels like a joke has deep and long-lasting impacts, not just for the targeted person but for the students themselves. Our best defense is a collaborative one.”

Goffredo confirmed that the school district had explored legal responses to the group attack. But ultimately the district found that they were “limited” because “courts generally protect students’ rights to off-campus free speech, including parodying or disparaging educators online—unless the students’ posts threaten others or disrupt school,” The Times reported.

Instead, the middle school “briefly suspended several students,” teachers told The Times, and held an eighth-grade assembly raising awareness of harms of cyberbullying, inviting parents to join.

Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association—which is the largest US teachers’ union—told The Times that teachers have never dealt with such harassment on this scale. Typically, The Times reported, students would target a single educator at a time. Pringle said teachers risk online harassment being increasingly normalized. That “could push educators to question” leaving the profession, Pringle said, at a time when the US Department of Education is already combating a teacher shortage.

While Goffredo said teachers had few options to fight back, he also told parents in an email that the district is “committed to working with law enforcement to support teachers who may pursue legal action.”

“I reiterate my disappointment and sadness that our students’ behavior has caused such duress for our staff,” Goffredo’s message to the community said. “Seeing GVSD in such a prominent place in the news for behavior like this is also disheartening.”

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