MySociaLife

Education

The Ukraine War on TikTok: What We and Our Children Can Learn From It

Article written by Havana Dauncey

TikTok is becoming the most popular app in our teens’ and pre-teens’ lives. Despite the 13+ age limit, children aged 4-15 are spending an average of 75 minutes on TikTok per day. As a parent or teacher, you can’t help but wonder what they’re watching on there for that long, especially when a war is currently being broadcasted live uncensored on social media apps including TikTok.

So many questions arise for a lot of adults — What is TikTok? Where do teens and pre-teens get their news on the Ukraine war? What effect does exposure to the Ukraine war have on teens and pre-teens? Can adolescents tell the difference between fact and fallacy? Are there any benefits from TikTok? What can parents do to help their children rise above it, block it or understand the motivations of those posting about it — critical thinking is essential!

Let’s deep dive into the Ukraine war on TikTok and explore the effects it may have on adolescents.

Where do kids get their news?

Let’s start with the basics — to find out what type of news teens are getting, you have to first figure out where they’re getting it from. Most teens, over 50%, get their news from social media apps, particularly TikTok.

Anyone across the world can post content on TikTok in real-time and uncensored, so it’s no surprise children and teens are accessing loads of content regarding the Ukraine war. It’s also easier for them to digest news from their favourite influencer speaking their ‘teen talk’ (or kid talk) than a monotonous news anchor they hear in the background.

Adolescents, willingly or not, are becoming curious about the world and its affairs.  Some are even taking on the role of social justice warrior. For example, child and teen TikTok users spammed Vladimir Putin’s fan accounts with #vladdydaddy as an act of protest, pleading “Vladdy Daddy please no war…” This may seem like a small act, but it represents teens becoming active citizens in the world they belong to, standing up for what they believe in.

TikTok as a news source is highly complex. Here’s why:

  • TikTok’s short-form-content formula rewards hooks to grab users’ attention and gives little time for viewers to decide who’s the hero and who’s the villain.
  • TikTok uses an algorithm to filter content for its users. To be honest, no one really knows how it works how the algorithm works. All we know is that its main goal is to keep users watching, focusing on watch time and presenting it on the For You Page (FYP). We get fed more of what we click on, so clicking on fake news and violence ensures we get more of it, driving adolescents deeper into a rabbit hole of falsehoods or hideous imagery.
  • Because our brains are predisposed to focus on movement and novelty, adolescents are drawn to videos that are scary and shocking.
  • Our brains process video much faster than text, especially with the help of music. Teens and pre-teens are then presented with an unsettling reality where a horrific scene is paired with their favourite pop song.
  • More disillusion is created by teens and pre-teens watching their favourite influencers living life one day and then hiding in a bomb shelter the next.
  • The war-torn scenes are juxtaposed with TikTok’s creative, humorous and light-hearted tone.

Interestingly, it’s TikTok’s use of pop music and humorous tone that allows us to contextualise what we’re seeing, process it and distance ourselves from the hard and unfathomable reality in Ukraine.

It’s a classic pop-culture approach, but this generation misses the motivation of publishers in whatever they post, seeking likes, followers, celebrity at a high cost. Different from generations before that may have employed their own ways of visualising or voicing their views, this stick of dynamite has the added fuse of virality and global attention for publishing something. The rewards are different, making the motivation different.

Thus, TikTok constructs a complex environment for adolescents to receive their news.

Could this exposure to violence lead to desensitization?

What makes adolescents’ exposure to the Ukraine war so troubling is teens’ and pre-teens’ inability to separate fact from fantasy. Some may think it’s all a joke while others may believe they’re entering World War 3.

What about desensitization? For years, this topic has circled the effects of violent video games. But according to the research, there isn’t any long-term desensitization from these video games. However, while the varied research makes it difficult to draw a conclusion, we’re finding that this exposure to violence can still affect more vulnerable individuals.

Secondary trauma also plays a role on TikTok — this is when you hear about trauma and it sticks with you. This triggers negative emotions and can be triggered again later on. So for adolescents that are more vulnerable to violence, this secondary trauma becomes very real.

What does exposure to violence on TikTok mean for adolescents and parents?

  • This highlights the importance of the 13+ age restriction, as teens are a lot more capable of differentiating between fact and fantasy.
  • It’s also important to protect our children by promoting critical thinking so that they question fantasy and try to uncover the facts.
  • Parents should aim to prepare their children so that they know what to expect and know that they have a choice in what they see.
  • There should be a focus on building resilience in them to give them the strength on their own to be able to turn off a video when it’s not serving them.

Misinformation vs disinformation — what’s the difference?

The question is not only can teens and pre-teens understand the difference between fact and fantasy, but also between fact and fallacy. Most social media apps, especially TikTok, have little to no fact-checking tool. As adults, we know that we can’t take anything on social media at face value — more often than not, adults can tell the truth from the lies and are able to check their sources. But adolescents have not yet acquired this skill, making them vulnerable to both misinformation and disinformation.

Misinformation and disinformation are often used interchangeably, but there’s a distinct difference between the two:

  • Misinformation: Incorrect information presented either intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Disinformation: False information that’s deliberately spread with the intention to deceive.

While both are harmful, disinformation is often even more dangerous because of its direct intention to propagate lies. Both forms are very prevalent on TikTok. People spread misinformation for the sake of views and virality.

For example, in some content, visuals are matched with the wrong audio to create a dramatic and shocking effect and portray something that isn’t real. Footage from video games has even been used and believed to be real footage from Ukraine. Teens and pre-teens are constantly exposed to this ‘fake news’, believing it and letting it influence their perception of the world.

How can we protect our children from the constant waves of mis-/dis-information? We educate them. MySociaLife’s very first module, of its total 8 lessons of 60 minutes each, teaches children not only how to fact-check, but why it’s important. We can also teach them to report any misinformation they find. Just like everyone else, children don’t want to be tricked or duped — reporting gives them the power over the people trying to deceive them. 

Is TikTok all bad? What are the upsides?

Like everything, TikTok has both light and dark corners. And its light side offers our children limitless opportunities to learn, grow and excel — they just have to know how to find it.

Here are some upsides of TikTok worth celebrating:

  • Increased awareness of the global environment: Adolescents are becoming interested and aware of what’s happening in the world and current events, all by themselves — some are even now pushing their parents to get involved and become active citizens themselves.
  • Promotion of empathy and compassion: By receiving first-person accounts, often in real-time, adolescents gain a perceptive they never would have been exposed to otherwise, forcing them to consider what the world is like outside of their own perception and promoting a deep sense of empathy in the new generation.
  • An exciting new world for creativity: TikTok has become an outlet of creativity for a lot of users, expressing their extraordinary skills, talents and hard work, creating masterpieces of a whole new art form. 
  • Entrepreneurial potential: TikTok holds incredible power for businesses where they can gain wide exposure, build loyal communities and drive sales — teens’ exposure to this can inspire them to create a business of their own, utilizing TikTok as a key to success.

Every child is different. Some will suffer from the influence of TikTok, others may be more indifferent. The trick is to know which category your child may sit in and to pay careful attention to their behaviour to see if there are any effects — lethargic, fearful, and self-conscious are often normal teen responses, but are you seeing anything that’s concerning and noticeable? Don’t ignore the signs. 

And for every TikTok user, take a look at what they’re watching, be interested, ask questions (as opposed to telling) and use the opportunity to educate yourself without becoming too lofty and forging distance between you and adolescents. Connection and trust are key. Without it, they’re on an island alone, and you’ll find it hard to support them. 

Top Tips — how can parents help their children learn from this?

The final question to ask is — with everything that’s been discussed, how can parents and teachers help their children learn, grow and excel on TikTok despite the potential dangers of violence and misinformation circulating on social media apps?

We give them the most powerful tool in the world — education.

Here are ways to educate your children so that they are aware, protected and equipped to deal with both the light and the dark sides of TikTok:

  • Talk often, talk always: Start the conversation on technology, news, war and how it relates to social media — this establishes trust between you and your child.
  • Focus on preparation and resilience: Teens and pre-teens who are prepared and have resilience are much less easily affected by what they might see on TikTok, plus these are essential tools that determine their success in life, not just in surviving TikTok.
  • Educate yourself on TikTok: If you haven’t already, it’s about time you get to know the place your child spends so much time in — this will give you a much wider understanding of how it works and the content your children are exposed to so that you can make educated decisions on how to help them.
  • Teach your children how to curate their content: Teaching adolescents how to curate their content so that they have the ultimate say in what enters their lives puts the power back in their hands and encourages them to think critically about which content they want to see.
  • Explore the parental controls: While their effectiveness is undecided, TikTok does have parental controls worth taking a look at and discussing with your child. You can even teach your child how to become a productive client of TikTok by letting TikTok know what parental controls you want and what they should improve.

TikTok doesn’t have to be all that scary if we teach our children how to use and consume it productively, responsibly and with lots of awareness. If we guide our children towards the light of TikTok, a whole new world of possibilities and opportunities await, leaving them empowered as active citizens of the world with their future in their own hands.

Media literacy. DTRT.

Do you know what LMIRL stands for in a WhatsApp or text? How about WTTP? Or PIR? The answers are “Let’s Meet In Real Life’ ‘Want To Trade Pictures?’ and ‘Parent in Room’.

Smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, PCs and laptops, LTE, 5G, and WiFi have meant explosive access to the internet, especially for kids, who just a decade or so earlier wouldn’t have enjoyed such exposure or reach. But as each one stepped into the world wide web, who provided them with a guide, or an understanding of the vast landscape of media, influence, opportunity and risk that comes with consuming stories? Dependent on household income, teens and pre-teens will access devices at different ages, but I would hazard that only a tiny minority are educated at ‘inception’ about what it means to be media literate and online savvy. 

MySociaLife teaches digital citizenship, online safety and media literacy to almost 4000 students a year and we teach them 8 modules be delivering these modules online or in person, term-after-term, over a year (ie resulting in 32000 learners or ‘seats’). We also teach their parents, their teachers, mental health professionals and GPs in South Africa, now in the thousands. We have requests for our Program from schools in China, Australia and Canada already which are in discussion. We have started teaching large corporates simply because business leaders are concerned that their vast workforce may not be media literal digital citizens and could drag their brand into reputational harm. As Warren Buffett wisely imparted, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

For the grownups, we can feel a little less sympathy, because it is understood that adults need to self-educate if we want to take control of our lives. By the time we reach adulthood, we (ideally) grasp that the future lies in our hands. But for teens and pre-teens, we cannot hold the same expectation. Adolescence is about being educated if you are fortunate enough, but then forgetting or ignoring the lessons, and then making the mistakes enough times or failing the tests to later force absorption of the teaching and bring about change. 

But what happens when our kids are not taught about life online and so do not even have the basic information and tools to manage the complexity of privacy, security, identity, sexuality, mental health, reputation on this high-speed train of transient content? 

We have the answer to this question. We are frequently dumbfounded by what we hear around South Africa from teenagers who reveal the extent of the challenges within social media and other aspects of their dynamic and exciting life online. We hear of ‘sextortion’ rackets in which teens are persuaded to share naked images and then bribed for money or more pictures, we see identity theft in which a Grade 10 loses her entire account of 1450 friends, with the cybercriminal casually approaching and later threatening the student’s sister and mother. We see incidents of ‘catfishing’ in which adults pretend to be to kids to approach them, or boys pretend to be attractive young girls to try and get sexts from them. Our work in schools offers a privileged vantage point and our unique differentiator is that we are good listeners. 

Armed with this knowledge of where our kids find themselves, how should we help them in the form of a solution?

Kobus van Wyk, The CEO of ADESSA (Associated Distributors of Educational Supplies in Southern Africa) proposed this to me in a recent Zoom call. He holds up a pencil and says that decades ago we were taught how to hold it between thumb and forefinger. When we hold a pencil like a lollipop it doesn’t function optimally, and normally attracts attention from others with critical comments. Van Wyk believes we need to attend to smart device and app education with similar vigour and attention from early stages in school. But, moreover, what we do with that pencil – the power of our words to help or harm – is also equally important, but less talked about. 

In a world of comparison on social media, we would see a different society if we were taught to employ empathy and choose our words wisely. Digital citizenship is a multi-dimensional curriculum guiding learners to be responsible online. Media literacy has been defined as “being able to access, analyze, and evaluate information, which we receive through media. Being media literate means being able to create media messages and to use the technology tools available to us. It means being able to think critically and speak confidently.”

If you have seen any of the well-known movies like The Great Hack or The Social Dilemma on Netflix, these reveal an important truth about where we find ourselves – we are mere pawns in the attention economy, where monolithic social and technology platforms fight for our time online because time means ad placements, and that results in income and happy shareholder value. These media masters have worked out what humans want – photos, moving images, bold headlines, sensationalism – which is not that new, but the novelty lies in the algorithms that collect our data and serve us more of what we like and want, or what outrages us, to keep us online. 

In these movies, their failing was that none of them delves deep enough into the impact on our impressionable kids. Media always had influence, but now it’s on another level. The Social Dilemma worked so well because it used the senior product developers of these platforms to admit to the fact that social media is not what they hoped it would b and reveal the darker side of corporate greed and competition. However, it failed to show how the tentacles that stem from this reach out and touch our kids in many ways, eroding self-esteem, exacerbating mental health challenges, and putting teenagers at risk.

In 2020 we have almost 4.5bn humans online, of which almost 4bn are on mobile devices. TikTok has had, prior to a recent ban in India, 800m monthly users, of which 40% were teenagers. That’s power. And I have to say that MySociaLife has been surprised by the dynamic activism of this generation possessing an unapologetic, vocal unwillingness to tolerate some of the irresponsible behaviour of the generations before them – climate change, #MeToo and #BLM. It’s no longer a case of “kids should be seen and not heard.” These adolescents believe that they have a right to impart their perspective and (often naive) wisdom because this planet and this multicultural diversity will indeed be theirs, and their children’s, to manage. In that event, it appears that South Africa should have done a much better job in educating our 12 million school-going learners to prepare and ready them for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. These kids are the future of work. They are our future workers.

But education hasn’t happened for a number of reasons. In some parts of the country, we cannot even get basic literacy right. We have a long way to go. Government’s mindset is to provide tablets to reach 4IR goals, and not provide foundational education in how to use the tablets for good, for change, for success. They are interested in what we teach in our Program but it’s long-winded and complicated to adopt the curriculum. We aren’t holding our breath.

It’s hard for adults to actually get it. They also consume content rather obliviously and lack the sufficient critical thinking skills expected of an older and wiser generation to question the authenticity of the text, images and captions that they are presented with. There’s no secret that many media titles and outlets lean to one side or another, to left or right, or far left or far right. In fact, a recent infographic painted a unique picture of the somewhat transparent bias within a number of the world’s most popular news outlets. 

In fact, this Is arguably the first time in history that an area of popular culture is being navigated by the child and the parent at the same. Everyone is learning on the job. 

So, there is only one solution and that is to get the ball rolling. Education leaders need to do a much better job of intervention. There is so much to gain through digital citizenship, media literacy, and critical thinking training simply because of the sheer volume of screen time and the diversity of touchpoints and devices which will not abate – teenagers are consuming one hour more media every year. And as they do this, the meaningful connections and moments in their lives, the key minutes and hours of face-to-face contact and sharing of values is starting to dwindle. 

Digital identity, critical thinking, media literacy and fake news, privacy and cybersecurity, digital footprint and reputation, sexuality online, empathy, mind health and resilience – these are what we teach, and the students love it. This is square in their ballpark, but we reveal the corners they haven’t visited – the dark and the light, and share skills that may last them a lifetime and change the way they see technology, the internet, devices and social media. For better and for worse. It’s time for the government and education leaders to DTRT. Do The Right Thing.

Digital Life Skills company introduces video training for kids

COVID-19 has kept kids indoors, isolated from friends, and driven to increased screen time. But for many, that comes with challenges.

Last week, MySociaLife, South Africa’s leading digital life skills, online safety and social media educators, asked students what digital life orientation lesson they wanted next. And we were shocked by the answer…

  • 44% chose Mental Health as the topic they would request next from MySociaLife
  • 22% chose to ask for help with attention and focus
  • 60% said their screen time had increased by 3 hours or more

Before Lockdown our teens and pre-teens struggled with life online lacking the maturity and emotional regulation to control the devices and content they watch, play and engage with for many hours a day. With increased screen time, these problems have only magnified, according to Founder of MySociaLife, Dean McCoubrey. And yet there are less than a handful of digital experts in the entire country that cover this extent of digital education.

Schools are feeling overwhelmed with firstly the rapid move to “Corona School” requirements and now back to getting schools, ready to welcome students back to a safe environment of learning and finding time to fit in the extra’s is intimidating and overwhelming but our kids need the guidance and support to ensure that they are safer and smarter online.

As a result, SA’s leading ‘Digital Life Skills’ program in schools has now been made available by video for life orientation or IT teachers to run easily using a combination of lesson plan, slide deck with videos and animations, workshop exercises and an end of module test. Click here for a video explainer. 

One challenge is that schools are nervous to add more to their plate, and ask more of a stretched Life Orientation or IT Teacher. But McCoubrey has found two solutions for schools: “MySociaLife can either teach via webinar -logging in via a simple link, and interacting with our Head Digital Life Skills Trainer. Alternatively we also offer a complete teaching pack and lesson plan for L.O. or IT Teachers to run with. It’s super simple.”

Using a globally renowned digital curriculum and supported by specialists in mental health, privacy and security, the 8-module program covers:

  • Mental Health and Resilience
  • Critical Thinking
  • Focus Tools
  • Digital Identity
  • Bullying
  • Privacy and Security
  • Digital Values
  • Sexting (for teen students)

Schools can purchase the video program and we release two (60-minute) modules per term to ensure the 8-modules can be completed within one school year.”

For some background on MySociaLife in action, click here.  “We have seen that it’s near-impossible for schools to try and manage this via Life Orientation simply because of the fast pace of evolution and the secrecy of students in this area of their lives.” He also explained that to provide this point, repeated feedback via surveys has illustrated that less than 5% of students in any school would go to the school counsellor about a social media or bullying issue. They won’t take the chance of losing their phones and being ostracized from the community.

The data is surprising even to us, of what kids are struggling with. They appear confident online, but their brains aren’t equipped for the complexity. That is why every school should have a digital life skills program in place. Few people understand the extent of the digital landscape” he says.

For interviews, pls contact Adam Hunter: info@mysocialife.com Or visit www.mysocialife.com / Instagram and Facebook: @MySociaLifeSA

Wondering how to keep your kids safe and smart online?

Founder of MySociaLife, Dean McCoubrey recently had an interview with author and educator, Josh Ochs from SmartSocial.com in Los Angeles 🙂

We at MySociaLife, have watched Josh for years, and he is pure class, a superb ‘app safety’ reviewer, and his sweet spot is on helping kids to be safe and smart (just like MySociaLife) but also to be “light, bright and polite” – guiding them to build a compelling digital footprint, and set themselves apart online.

Why work for years and years at school to apply for tertiary education, and fall down at the last hurdle – at the application stage – through a rogue digital footprint on Google and social media? This is something really playing for… It’s potentially life-changing.

Listen to the interview HERE

How DSG, Grahamstown, Gained Valuable Digital Life Skills

Do you have a problem with social media and smart devices in your school (e.g. bullying or sexting, or shaming, or privacy violation)? It seems that, these days, schools can’t ignore the hard truth that learners are overwhelmed with smart devices, social media and apps.

DSG girls have completed their digital      citizenship training with MySociaLife.

Parents and educators have a responsibility to keep informed about the potential risks and pitfalls. Diocesan School for Girls (DSG) in Grahamstown understood the need for digital skills training and brought in the MySociaLife program to help.

MySociaLife exploded onto the school scene in 2018, examining the physiological, emotional, mental and neurological influences of working on smart devices and in social media. Working as certified adopters of the world’s leading international digital citizenship framework, they have since signed a vast number of SA’s top independent schools, who highly rate their results.

The media now come to them as the #1 digital life skills trainers in the country and they are literally shaping the conversation with over 100 interviews and articles in the last quarter of last year. 8 modules of digital life skills training is offered to students (Grade 4 -11).

They also, separately, train teachers, parents and school counsellors too to ensure everyone is watchful and in the loop; giving them tools and tips to develop conscious and healthy media consumption, becoming more digitally aware and resilient. Their message is positive and constructive, and not fear-mongering.

We spoke to DSG to hear how their life skills program has impacted their school.

Q1) What made you, as a school, decide that DSG required digital life skills training?

A: All humans are facing a rapid evolution of the digital landscape and it is difficult to keep abreast of the developments, and more importantly the risks. DSG feels that it is our responsibility to fully educate our pupils about this evolving landscape, but acknowledge that we are ill-equipped to do so and therefore sort the advice of experts.

Q2) What challenges did the school have in terms of students being online?

A: We haven’t faced any major issues but common to many other schools, we have faced the following:

  • Loss of sleep
  • Addiction
  • Abuse of social media
  • Online bullying
  • Use of social media for untoward behaviour and rule-breaking

Q3) From the feedback you received from the students, do you feel that the digital life skills program of 8 modules was thorough enough and why?

A: It was very thorough and comprehensive.

Q4) What impressed you most about the MySociaLife program?

A: The appeal of the MSL programme is multidimensional:

  • It is long term, covering varying topics related to the digital landscape (as opposed to the lecture and dash approach of the short course programmes which generally show lower uptake values)
  • There is an aspect of educating everyone about their own digital footprint and responsibility within the digital space
  • The programme seeks to educate ‘responsible use’ acknowledging that we cannot limit use entirely

Q5) Do you feel that the girls’ online behaviour was influenced in a positive way, following each module of training?

A: Although difficult to measure, there is a sense that the girls have a better understanding of the way they engage with social media.

Q6) Would you recommend MySociaLife to other schools?

A: Yes.

Q7) How did you find the presenter, Dean McCoubrey with the students?

A: The pupils and staff find Dean relatable and informed.

Q8)Do you feel that the modules are covering all relevant subjects (ie cyberbullying, critical thinking, privacy, digital identity & resilience, sexuality online, screen time/obsessive use, etc) to ensure that students are more digitally aware at the end of the program?

A: Yes and we like the continued evolution of the programme.

The MySociaLife digital skills training is a step in the right direction for schools. Evidently, Diocesan School for Girls in Grahamstown has gained valuable tools to help learners, parents and educators to deal with the physiological, mental and emotional pitfalls of smart devices, social media and apps. So much so, David Wright invited them to teach at his new school Kingswood, where he is now Principal.

And by the same token, Shelly Frayne, invited MySociaLife to St Cyprians this year too. That’s two direct endorsements from the same school directly upon finishing their one year program. Perhaps its the fact that they will meet you and audit what you might need in your school at no cost, or if you don’t believe in the Program after the first module, you can have your money back and don’t have to continue. That’s confidence!