Talking to Students About Ukraine
It is not hard to notice how much our OJCS students have been talking to one another about what’s happening in Ukraine. When they enter the classroom in the mornings, when they play outside at recess, and as they walk in the halls, they are talking about the things they’ve heard, the TikTok videos they’ve seen, and the news they’ve managed to see on tv or hear in the car with their parents. It is really important that we don’t ignore this show of concern in our students, but instead, try to offer opportunities to discuss the invasion sensitively with them so that they have an opportunity to voice their anxieties and other feelings, and to help them gain context and understanding. It is also a great way we can bring news literacy into the classroom by discussing the ways in which social media can lead to misinformation about what is going on.
Here are some resources you can use to help you navigate these discussions;
A great NBC news story about TikTok’s role in Ukraine. Appropriate for middle school and high school. https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/tiktok-suspends-new-content-live-streaming-platform-russia-rcna18913
UkraineFacts.org is a great fact checking site to help combat all of the disinformation circulating about the invasion. Ukrainefacts.org
Relevant OJCS Library Nearpod Lessons
Becoming a Critical Thinker on TikTok
A middle school media literacy lesson
With TikTok becoming the social media platform of choice for so many students, it is important that they learn to recognize the misinformation, hate, and propaganda on the platform. It is also critical that they become aware of some of the TikTok controversies, like the privacy issues with the platform, as well as some of their unethical censorship rules. This lesson is availabe as both a slides and Nearpod lesson.
What Are Social Bots?
A DigCit Info Post
You have probably heard people talk about something you find on social media called bots. You may even have had an experience with bots liking, retweeting, or commenting on your social media posts. But what exactly are bots? Are they dangerous?
There was an event on TikTok a few months ago where many users suddenly had hundreds of likes and comments on every single video of theirs from other users with weird names who had no content of their own and who had Asian profile pictures. Kids got very scared and there were TikTok videos circulating that the people liking and commenting were kidnappers. It caused some pretty widespread hysteria. But what these were were not real people, they were automated computer programs called bots that been designed to like and comment on anybody who had posted videos that followed certain criteria. And they were not dangerous or threatening to TikTok users.
So the bots you find online are automated computer programs and the ones we find on social media are known as SOCIAL BOTS or CHAT BOTS. These simple automated computer programs look for certain keywords in posts and decide what to comment and/or if to like the post. To help explain what these automated computer programs do, let’s watch this excellent video on the topic.
So now that you know a lot more about bots, what clues could have helped TikTok users identify their new fans as bots instead of real users? Post your answers in the comments section of this post!
It is important to note that there are real dangers with bots, and that is their ability to sway public opinion in a certain direction. This can impact decisions made by governments, made by voters, and made by the general public like you. For example, seeing that certain TikTok users have more likes than others may persuade you to follow that person, even if all those likes came from bots.
The Atlantic Magazine writes that – ‘About a fifth of all tweets about the 2016 presidential election were published by bots, according to one estimate, as were about a third of all tweets about that year’s Brexit vote. An Oxford Internet Institute report from last year found evidence of bots being used to spread propaganda in 50 countries.’(Schneier, Bruce. Bots Are Destroying Political Discourse As We Know It, The Atlantic. Jan 2020).
What this means is that bots are posting about politics and this has the power to influence other people’s opinions about issues that are really important, like who should be the next Prime Minister or whether people should legally have to wear masks in public. And when the government is looking to social media to find out public opinion on a certain issue, they may instead be finding the opinions of bots that alter the truth of the majority. Bots are also used to spread a lot misinformation, hate, and racist ideas.
So use your new bot-identifying skills and don’t fall for the opinions of bots! But if they give you a like, a retweet, or a comment, don’t get too worried about it either.
Using Social Media to Make a Positive Impact
Your parents and teachers (including me!) are often trying to educate you about the problems and safety issues surrounding social media. That it’s addictive, that some platforms are inappropriate, that it is full of ill-intentioned strangers. There is of course some truth to some of this, but there is also a bright and shiny flip side. There are a lot of positives that come from our ability to connect with friends and strangers around the world. Today’s lesson is about how we can use social media to make a positive impact.
Greta Thunberg is an example of someone who has used social media to spread the word about climate change. She has 4.1 million followers on Twitter and 10.2 million followers on Instagram. She uses these platforms to raise awareness and as a call to action in all of the cities and towns she visits.
We are going to look at some of the platforms people are using online to help make change in the world. I am going to use the example of environmental issues for this lesson as that is a topic that many of you have expressed is a big concern.
You can post photos on Instagram relating to an environmental issue that is affecting your community. Maybe it’s a photo of a pond near your house that’s full of garbage and needs to be cleaned up. Maybe it’s a photo of an amazing vegan meal you made. Maybe it’s a photo of a wild storm that is directly related to climate change. Whatever it is, share some information with the photo so that people who see it can take action in some way. Even if that means sharing a recipe! Use hashtags too. https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/environment/
You can even make Tik Tok videos that spread the word!
@lycheebee##vegan hawaiian inspired mac salad ##food ##recipe ##yummy ##foryou ##foryoupage♬ original sound – aniggawitadik
Twitter is a great place to tweet about these issues or retweet important articles. Also, be sure and follow organizations connected to the causes that are important to you.
You can produce your own short youtube videos that educate others about issues that concern you!
Write a blog post about it!
Activity: Idea Generation and Post Creation
Feeling like we are making a difference is very empowering. Create a post that can contribute to educating others about any issue that is important to YOU. Highlight an issue you’d like to address in a post and choose the platform you’d like to use that you have an existing account for. If you are not on social media or are not old enough to create an account, this could be a personal blog post or just an image you can share out that includes a caption. This can be done now or over the course of the next two weeks. Make sure to do some research and get your facts straight so that you are not posting any misinformation. If you are able to share it with me or screenshot it and email it to me I’d love to include them on this page. firstname.lastname@example.org
Social Media and Our Relationships
Grades 6, 7, and 8 visited the library this week for a lesson on the effects of social media on our personal relationships. Whether they are allowed legally to be on certain platforms or not (most require you to be at least 13), the reality is that most middle schoolers are on Snapchat, Instagram, Tic Toc, or other social media. By grade 8 social media has become completely enmeshed with daily life and plays a huge role in friend dramas.
This workshop started off by having students discuss what are some benefits of social media. What they love about it. Many students mentioned their ability to connect with family and friends far away, as well as feeling like they are safe and can always get in touch with someone when they need them. Then we discussed what some of the drawbacks were that they or their friends personally experienced. This included feeling angry seeing snaps of friends out without you, feeling jealous that others have more followers, and being constantly distracted. Everyone was eager to share during these discussions.
We moved on to oversharing and how it can be harmful to post things in the heat of the moment, post things that will leave a permanent stain on your digital footprint, or post things that can even put your safety at risk.
The next concept was something called ‘Red Flag Feelings’ and was an important concept defined as follows;
A red flag feeling is when something happens on digital media that makes you feel uncomfortable, worried, sad, or anxious. It is a warning that something might be wrong. (commonsense.org)
We discussed how to approach these bad feelings by reflecting on their cause and trying to come up with strategic ways to cope with them. We divided into four groups. Each group was given a scenario and had to identify both feelings and possible responses and then share out their answers.
I genuinely hope that they will take the tools from this lesson with them into their daily lives and can better understand their feelings when difficult situations arise.
For resources on this lesson please visit common sense education.