When it comes to social media literacy, Berkeley High School’s (BHS) ninth grade Ethnic Studies and Social Living curriculum barely scratches the surface, only broadly covering topics such as cyberbullying and social media’s effects on the brain. For the amount of time teens spend scrolling through social media, reposting infographics, and creating posts, there must be more education about the harmful impacts induced by the media we’re constantly consuming and sharing with others.
Across the nation, high school students are faced with a lack of specific, applicable, and responsible information about how to interact with social media. According to MediaWise, a project empowering young people to become careful consumers of online content, “the vast majority of teenagers have trouble navigating digital information — from viral hoaxes on Instagram to sponsored content on news sites.” A lack of understanding of how to responsibly interact with digitized content and social media has far-reaching and detrimental social and emotional impacts.
While loss of self-esteem is not uniquely caused by social media, usage can amplify the feeling. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study on teenagers’ experiences with social media, “26 percent of teens say [social media] makes them feel worse about their own life.” Checking social media platforms religiously after posting, and feeling disappointment or anxiety when the “likes” aren’t rolling in is a reality for many of us. This is only further enforced by the unhealthy validation received through comments on the ever-present selfies masked by filters.
Today, teenagers often receive news in the form of TikTok reels and Instagram infographics, which don’t provide in-depth or accurate information. When teenagers see informational posts, whether true or not, they tend to react impulsively, reposting and commenting before fully digesting the content. This can rapidly spread misinformation. A 2018 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that false news stories were 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories. Checking that sources are valid and letting information sink in before sharing are important skills to help limit the spread of misinformation.
Despite the absence of sufficient social media literacy curriculums and campaigns, teenagers must still learn to be aware of how they interact with social media and online content as a whole. Schools aren’t necessarily able to implement social media literacy programs, given limitations in funding and staffing, but, as our reality is becoming more digitized, teenagers must take the lead, while strongly encouraging peers and educators to join.