Use of TikTok by teenagers, role of teachers and schools

Teenagers today come to school carrying devices that connect them not only to each other but also to the treasures and turmoil of the world in which they live. Their teachers, coaches and advisors show up for their daily encounter with students in a cultural environment shaped by what digital technology has wrought.

In a spring survey of 1,316 Americans between the ages of 13 and 17, the Pew Research Center found that 97% of teens say they use the Internet daily. Almost half – 46% – say they are online “almost constantly”.

“The social media landscape is constantly changing,” says the Pew report, which tracks teen use of 10 popular platforms. YouTube remains the most used — by 95% of teens — while Facebook has fallen from 71% in 2015 to 32% in 2022.

The Pew researchers point to their finding that TikTok has “skyrocketed in popularity…and is now a leading social media platform for teens” among the top 10 in the survey. “About 67% of teens say they have ever used TikTok, and 16% of all teens say they use it almost constantly,” according to the survey.

TikTok, a powerhouse owned by a Chinese company, has built a huge following as a music and short video site. And now, as The New York Times reports, “TikTok is becoming increasingly important as a destination for political content, often produced by influencers.”

“Ahead of the midterm elections this fall, TikTok is emerging as a primary incubator for baseless and misleading information, in many ways as problematic as Facebook and Twitter, say researchers who track online lies,” reports the Times. “The same qualities that allow TikTok to fuel viral dance fads — the platform’s huge reach, short video length, powerful but poorly understood recommendation algorithm — can also make inaccurate claims difficult. to contain.”

Recent case studies on media manipulation published by a team of researchers from Harvard Kennedy School identify attributes of TikTok that facilitate the spread of rumors, conspiracy theories, distortions and inaccuracies that are harmful to democracy and democracy. everyday civic harmony. Harvard researchers distinguish between misinformation (intentionally misleading or inaccurate) and disinformation (false or misleading material intentionally spread to deceive).

“On TikTok,” explains one of the case studies, “anyone can post and repost any video, and stolen or reposted clips are displayed alongside the original content… Handles are popular on TikTok, which makes it harder to discern who a poster is, where they are, and whether their video content is original or real… Parody and roleplay videos are all common genres on the platform, and viewers who are unfamiliar with this specific form of comedy might confuse them with the real thing.

A fascinating and disturbing case study examined the “slap a teacher” hoax. News spread online and in mainstream media in the fall of 2021 of a TikTok challenge for students to “slap a teacher.” Such a challenge did not exist, but the mere mention of a TikTok broadcast sparked fear in schools in several states.

Of course, TikTok isn’t the only source of online entertainment, as well as misinformation and misinformation. All in all, social media offers an amazing mix of benefits and harms. This isn’t the first time Americans have been challenged to use new communications technology to spread knowledge, build community, and foster democracy while avoiding a slide into distortion and mediocrity.

In 1961, for example, FCC Chairman Newton Minow told broadcasters that when television is good, “nothing is better.” But he chastised them for producing a “vast wasteland” of television programming.

In 2022, it is certainly unrealistic to expect middle and high school teachers to monitor the huge stream of chat texts, music, videos, games and websites available to teens on their tablets, mobile phones and wrist devices. But, as in the 1960s, when teachers had to recognize that television was shaping the environment of adolescents, educators now have a vital role to play in guiding a generation of students attached to the devices they carry around.

Schools remain institutions meant to prepare young people for productive careers in a tech-rich economy. But a free and open democratic society also relies on schools to help nurture well-rounded citizens who act ethically and think critically – who can discern the difference between the online treasure trove of knowledge and information and the “wasteland” of social media reached with a single click or keystroke.

Ferrel Guillory

Ferrel Guillory is Director of the Public Life Program and Professor of Practice at UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and Vice President of EducationNC.

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