Lessons from TikTok on Academic Integrity 

I recently came across a retweet by Thomas Lancaster, an academic integrity expert perhaps best known for his work on contract cheating. The tweet contained a TikTok video that depicts a typical example of the practice, a parent writing a paper for a student who felt they could not submit an assignment on time. The short clip shares what so many of us know. That all too often, a simple message or request for help turns into academic misconduct. Though problematic for this audience, the message is meant to be funny and poignant, a retort to what the student felt was an unaccommodating professor.  

The creativity in TikTok reflects what I love most about research that uses digital narratives to explain the experiences of college students. Engaged students are those who see themselves reflected in the classroom. They are motivated by instruction, subject matter, or the promise of advancement resulting from a course. Students need more than course resources. Support and individualization are necessary for engagement.

The Problem: Students who are not engaged risk finding themselves more likely to succumb to the pressures of time and discomfort. Social media provides audio and visual representations of the conditions and challenges impacting students. TikTok, in particular, is used as a snippet of expression, representation, and validation. At its core, the medium represents individual artistry, allowing creators to present a version of themselves in a public forum. Viral dances and videos are the results of affirmation and inspiration. I've found several connections to the values of academic integrity in these videos. 

Attribution: Tik Tok etiquette requires that a creator who uses the content of another to acknowledge it. The community acknowledges this attribution practice rather than being monitored as a requirement of terms and conditions. This is notable. Do creators violate the community expectation? Of course.  Nevertheless, community members actively (and loudly) called out by the creators themselves. Why?  Because the community has decided that they value individual contributions.  It is also important to note that this attribution is expected despite an algorithmic system accused of being unfair. Creators are taken to task and publicly respond for misrepresenting ownership. These are concepts that are not new; we see the same thing in various social media mediums. It is one of the reasons why the retweet and share buttons exist. 

Collective Action: Frustrated with community decisions, creators come together to address the misuse or misattribution. Posts simplifying the original creators of dances, recipes, and fashion trends are amplified to drown out the violation. This form of accountability results has led to opportunities for the original content creator, media opportunities, and accolades that can lead to future successes. 

Courage: Creators speak out despite running the risk of being ostracized by other community members and speak up, even when it feels challenging to do so. Sacrifices, including boycotts or video responses to unattributed work, demonstrate the issues around improper attribution and what it means to value the original work or creative expression of an individual or a culture.

The goal is simple; creators manage to express themselves, demonstrate the value of digital expression and expect others to respect the community's contributions.  

What can we learn? While not a perfect example, mediums like TikTok provide examples of how groups can self-impose community norms. Likewise, creating academic communities where students are responsible for and take pride in while also holding others to a standard of accountability is the goal of academic integrity.