Teens’ use of TikTok, the role of teachers and schools

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These days, teenagers come to school with devices that connect them not only to each other, but also to the treasures and hustle and bustle of the world in which they live. Their teachers, coaches and advisors meet students daily in a cultural environment shaped by digital technologies.

U spring survey of 1,316 Americans ages 13 to 17, the Pew Research Center found that 97% of teens say they use the Internet daily. Almost half – 46% – say they are online “almost all the time”.

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

Pew researchers highlight their finding that TikTok “has grown in popularity … and is now the top social media platform for teens” among the 10 in the survey. “About 67% of teens say they use TikTok sometime, with 16% of all teens saying they use it almost constantly,” according to the survey.

TikTok, a Chinese-owned powerhouse, has built a huge following as a site for music and short videos. and now as reported by The New York Times“TikTok is becoming an increasingly important place for political content, often created by influencers.”

“Ahead of this fall’s midterm elections, TikTok will become a major incubator for baseless and misleading information, in many ways as problematic as Facebook and Twitter,” say researchers who track misinformation online, The Times reports. “The same qualities that enable TikTok to fuel viral dance fads — the platform’s massive reach, the short length of videos, its powerful but poorly understood recommendation algorithm — can also make inaccurate claims hard to sustain.”

The last ones case studies of media manipulation published by a team of researchers from the Harvard Kennedy School, identify the attributes of TikTok that contribute to the spread of rumours, conspiracy theories, distortions and inaccuracies that harm democracy and everyday civic harmony. Harvard University researchers distinguish between misinformation (intentionally misleading or inaccurate) and disinformation (false or false information that is intentionally disseminated to deceive).

“On TikTok,” says one of the case studies, “anyone can post and repost any video, and stolen or reposted clips are displayed next to the original content … Nicknames are popular on TikTok, so it’s harder to identify who the poster is, where they’re from.” are appearing and whether their video content is original or genuine … Parodies and role-playing videos are common genres on the platform and may be mistaken for genuine by viewers unfamiliar with this specific form of comedy.”

Fascinating and disturbing case study learned the “slap the teacher” hoax. In the fall of 2021, information about TikTok’s challenge to students to “hit the teacher” spread online and in mainstream media. There was no such problem, but the mere mention of TikTok’s spread sparked fear in schools in several states.

Of course, TikTok is not the only online source of entertainment, as well as misinformation and disinformation. Collectively, social media offers a bewildering mix of benefits and harms. This is not the first time that Americans have been challenged to use new communication technologies to spread knowledge, build community, and advance democracy while avoiding distortion and mediocrity.

In 1961, for example, FCC Chairman Newton Minow told broadcasters that if television was good, “there’s nothing better.” But he famously chastised them for creating a “huge wasteland” of TV programming.

Certainly, in 2022, it is unrealistic to expect middle and high school teachers to be able to keep up with the huge stream of chat texts, music, videos, games and websites available to teenagers on their tablets, mobile phones and handheld devices. But just as in the 1960s, when teachers had to acknowledge that television had shaped the environment of teenagers, educators now have an important role to play in managing a generation of students attached to the devices they carry around with them.

Schools remain institutions for preparing young people for productive careers in a technology-rich economy. But a free, open, democratic society also relies on schools to help shape well-rounded citizens who act ethically and think critically – who can tell the difference between the Internet’s treasure trove of knowledge and information and the social media “wasteland” reached with a simple click or keystroke.

Ferrell Guillory

Ferrell Guillory is director of the Public Life Program and Professor of the Practice at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and Vice Chair of EducationNC.

Teens’ use of TikTok, the role of teachers and schools

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