Living Through an Infodemic with Teens

In a recent post, we addressed one of the greatest challenges of the present moment: the information (and misinformation) overload we experience each day.  

The primary place we encounter this misinformation is social media, where the challenge of avoiding it is amplified by the very nature of these platforms, especially those frequented by teens. Content on TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter comes directly from other users. We see their faces, hear their voices, feel a connection to them. These connections put us at even higher risk of falling for false authority. For instance, someone in scrubs is not inherently an expert on viruses, no matter how convincing their “treatment” for COVID-19 is.  

The unfortunate reality is that some segments of the internet are dedicated to misinformation. Young people are often targets of conspiracy theories about governments and supranational governments as well as false advertising about home cures, beauty products, and “life hacks.” Falling for these hoaxes, especially now, can take them down some strange and potentially dark paths.  

Fortunately, however, these platforms also have safeguards against negative rabbit holes. TikTok and YouTube users can curate a positive online environment for themselves by simply focusing on what they enjoy. Skipping right over content flagged with a coronavirus label will eventually remove it from their feeds altogether. The same goes for content that is just awful or infuriating. On Instagram and Twitter, users choose who they follow and can mute or block topics and other users. Again, not looking at upsetting content will keep them from seeing it!  

Caretakers of teens can help them avoid ruining their own days by engaging them in regular conversations about what they’ve been seeing and hearing. Encourage them to not watch or engage with content or people that upset, anger, or scare them. Remind them that they are in control of their experience online, and they can make it a wonderful place by refocusing on the funny stuff, the dance videos, the craft tutorials, or whatever helps them cope, relax, and grow.  
 
Also, be sure to keep yourself informed of hoaxes, conspiracies, and misinformation that’s circulating. The Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center provided by NewsGuard and official sources like WHO,  CDC, and FEMA can help with this. Remind yourself and the teens around you to double check what’s shared on social media with other sources. (This is especially important for information found on TikTok as the date and geographical location of a post is not always clear!) 

And, of course, remind yourself and the young people in your life to just log off sometimes! 

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