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1. BeReal Deal

What it is: An app called BeReal that claims to bring authenticity back to social media is climbing the Apple and Google Play charts.
Why it’s something different: Here’s how it works: BeReal sends users a notification at a random time during the day. Once you’ve received that notification, you have a 2-minute window to post a photo. Everyone else in your time zone who has the app is supposed to be making their post at that same time, too, providing a feed that’s a hyperlocal and impossible to “curate” slice-of-life. If you post outside of the 2-minute window, BeReal tags the post with how late you were to the game. But BeReal is still a repackaged bunch of features we’ve come to recognize; it essentially takes the “greatest hits” of recent social media history and brings them together into one social media experience. You can only post to it once per day (like Wordle) and your posts disappear after 24 hours (like Snapchat). There’s a global scrolling feed called “Discover” that looks like TikTok’s FYP, and you can react to friends’ posts in simple, fun, and instant ways just like you can on Instagram. BeReal is currently ranked #8 for social media app downloads in the Apple store, which hints at how popular it’s becoming with teens on high school and college campuses hungry for a social media app that offers a fresh take on “authenticity.”

2. Unlearned Behavior

What it is: Teachers everywhere are reporting that the state of education in the US is in crisis. Teaching is so difficult right now that 49 percent of teachers in an American Psychological Association poll reported a desire to quit or transfer schools.
What’s making it so hard: As Rosie Gray writes for Buzzfeed News, educators were already facing a difficult task reaching their middle and high school students. But the pandemic appears to have turned a slow burn into a wildfire, with teachers reporting students who are months or years behind learning goals, not to mention an addiction to technology that it seems everyone has given up trying to manage. Masks, social isolation, limitless screen time, and extended time outside of the classroom have magnified behavioral problems and even acts of aggression against teachers themselves, all while teachers are trying to help teens who are suffering from a collective mental health crisis. If there are teachers in your life (or if you are one!), be aware that it doesn’t just seem harder for educators than it ever has been. It really is that hard.

3. Changing the Channel

What it is: A newly published study paid participants who usually watched Fox News to watch CNN, instead. Participants in the experimental group experienced a fundamental shift in the issues they saw as important, as well as how they viewed political candidates.
Why it’s worth thinking about: Most people know that the kind of news and entertainment they consume shapes the way that they view the world. And it isn’t a huge surprise that people who watch Fox News and people who watch CNN are receiving radically different messages about what’s important. After all, one might argue, worldview is why viewers choose one cable news network over another, to begin with. This study, though relatively small in scope, suggests that these beliefs are not set, but malleable according to what people are watching, even among those who are ordinarily quite committed to a conservative worldview. These researchers say their study supports the influence of what they call “partisan coverage filtering”—basically, what a media source chooses not to cover and amplify can be as impactful as the news it does showcase. It would be interesting to know what would happen if the same experiment were done in reverse, with regular CNN viewers paid to watch Fox News.

Slang of the Week

🦗🦟🦗🦟🦗🦟: an emoji combo meant to signify dancing, specifically throwing it back. (Ex: Busta Rhymes makes me want to 🦗🦟🦗🦟🦗🦟.)

Translation: Changing the Channel

Question: how many members of Gen Z are watching Fox News or CNN on a regular basis? Answer: very few. But the survey (despite its small sample size) illustrates a general point we’ve been making to teens and the adults who love them since Axis began: the media we consume shapes the worldview we develop.

In 2020, YPulse reported that 50 percent of Gen Z (and 49 percent of Millennials) are now getting their news from social media platforms, especially YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. But that could mean practically anything; maybe your teen’s algorithms are pushing lots of Fox News and/or CNN clips, among the millions of other sources they pull from. But these are exactly the questions we should be asking: who are our teens following on social media, and are those people reliable and trustworthy? Whether the topic at hand is politics, cultural hot takes, relationship advice, or anything else, what questions are we equipping teens to ask in order to help them discern good ideas from bad ideas, and truth from falsehood? Further, are we modeling a commitment to the notion that an idea’s correspondence with reality matters more than its emotional resonance?

As Flannery O’Connor once said, “Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” But on the flip side, truth also doesn’t change according to how preferable we may find an idea to be. Invite your teen to approach their media intake with questions like these in mind: Where did the person speaking get their information? Is that information reliable? Are they leaving anything out? Does the person speaking have something to gain by saying what they’re saying? What might they stand to lose by embracing an opposite perspective? Are they “free” to pursue truth or are they bound up in an ideology?

For more on this, check out this article from Timothy Padgett at Breakpoint. In the meantime, here are some questions to hopefully spark conversation with your teens about these issues:

  • Is there anything you think matters more than truth?
  • What are the main places/accounts you rely on for perspective about current events?
  • What’s one thing you wish I understood about how your generation sees the world?