1. Fake Photos, Real Fallout
What it is: Male students at a New Jersey high school were caught creating and sharing AI-generated nudes of real female classmates. Police are now investigating the incident.
Why it raises questions: Deepfake pornography isn’t necessarily new. What’s changed is the ready accessibility of tools that allow anyone to easily create and distribute this type of material. Some would assume that disrupting public perceptions of politicians and public figures would be the prime motivator for making deepfakes, also known as “synthetic” media. But research shared by the Washington Post shows that 96 percent of deep fakes are pornographic in nature, and 99 percent target women. There is currently no federal ban on deepfake creation or distribution (although Virginia, Illinois, Hawaii and California have passed legislation to try to stem the tide). AI uses an amalgamation of other images to create deepfakes, which makes it hard to even pursue a copyright complaint when these photos are posted publicly.
Start the conversation: What should the punishment be for creating or sharing faked nudes? Is it different than sharing images that were created with consent?
2. Creator Camps
What it is: Camps and extracurricular programs that claim to teach young people how to be influencers are becoming more popular.
What to know: Kids between the ages of 8 and 12 are unquestionably aiming to be YouTubers and other types of content creators. A 2019 survey showed the career choice was three times as popular as aspiring to be an astronaut. Some might even posit that the influencer career path has displaced other types of work as a new kind of American dream. Camps that teach skills used for YouTube may include Minecraft modding, video editing, and AI use. They also teach practical, safety-oriented skills, like how to maintain online anonymity in public spaces. Many young people interviewed mentioned YouTubers Unspeakable and Mr. Beast as their role models, citing the lucrative cash opportunities and social clout that these influencers have access to. While camps that teach these skills are indicative of a wider cultural phenomenon, they also provide their participants with knowledge that is widely applicable while encouraging creativity and personal expression.
Start the conversation: Why do you think so many people want to be influencers?
3. To the Maxx
What it is: The term “looksmaxxing” is being used to refer to young men interested in making the most of their natural appearance.
How it plays out on TikTok: “Looksmaxxing” likely originated in online communities where young men who were involuntarily single or celibate (incels) commiserated. In these communities, even those not gifted with natural good looks vowed to make the most of what they had to present as attractive to women. Basic grooming habits, a healthy diet, workout plans and acne medication were all common building blocks of “looksmaxxing.” But the term has taken on a bigger audience, and a different tone, on TikTok, where #looksmaxxing has 2.4 billion views. Young men who didn’t seem too awkward to begin with now go viral for sharing skincare tips, hair styling ideas, and encouragement for users attempting to “glow up” into the best (or at least, most handsome) version of themselves. Many also advocate for a technique called “mewing,” which practitioners claim can restructure the jawline.
Start the conversation: What is the difference between vanity and stewarding our bodies the way Christ would want us to?
Slang of the Week
Gyatt: Originally a shortening of the term “g*d****,” “gyatt” is often used as a tongue-in-cheek response to seeing a person with an attractive figure. (Kind of like a linguistic cat-call whistle). As the slang term bounced around the internet, it has slowly evolved and now, it most commonly references someone’s butt. “Gyatt” is trending thanks to a trending TikTok “song” that’s loaded with over-the-top slang terms, which is kind of the point. The lyrics? “Sticking out your gyatt for the rizzler. You’re so skibidi. You’re so Fantum tax. I just want to be your sigma. Freaking come here. Give me Ohio.” (If “Ohio” is the only part of that that makes sense to you, you’re not alone.) For our part at Axis, there’s not really any way to sugarcoat this one, but we still want to help keep you up to date on the slang of the day.
A Deep Dive on Digital Footprints and Oversharing
At this point, we’ve all heard the warning: “The internet is forever.” It’s a warning easier heard than heeded. It doesn’t matter if you delete a post, forget about it, or pretend it never existed, it’s still out there somewhere. The term most commonly associated with this idea is “digital footprint.” The online space is quick dry cement, and if you step in it, there will be a permanent record.
But on TikTok, the threat of having a cringe-worthy digital footprint has turned into something to meme, exploit, lampoon, or even celebrate. “Put a finger down,” “Susi pesto,” and the more straightforward “story time” are trends in which users post videos recounting some sordid, embarrassing, or tragic tale. If the details are shocking enough, the stories seem sure to go viral. All users have to do to participate is reveal some deeply (deeply!) private information for the world to consume (and hopefully, like and share). The comment sections of videos like these are often full of phrases like “you couldn’t waterboard this story out of me,” “sometimes sharing isn’t caring,” and, of course, “digital footprint.”
Gen Z knows, perhaps even better than older generations, that it can be unwise to overshare online. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t do it. The still-developing teenage brain, prone to thoughtless risks and impulsivity, meets the intoxicating cocktail of attention, admiration, and adulation that viral social media posts offer. When anyone can be suddenly famous at any time for the seemingly low cost of an embarrassing anecdote, it seems like a bargain.
Adults can more clearly see the potential for disaster inherent in this type of oversharing. When we immortalize parts of our lives that display immaturity or negativity, these aspects can come to limit and define who we are capable of being. Losing a job opportunity for an insensitive tweet is one (disastrous) thing, but being locked out of personal growth because we built a social media platform on being miserable is another.
Teens should understand that we honor ourselves when we think carefully about who we entrust with certain parts of ourselves and our lives. Jesus Himself left us an example of this with how He walked alongside His own inner circle. His deepest heart was not fully revealed to everyone He met. And while some relationships were more intimate than others, His offering of redemption was still extended to all who would take it.
For a more in-depth conversation about digital footprints and oversharing online, check out this Wednesday’s Deep Dive on our Culture Translator podcast feed. In the meantime, here are some questions to kick off conversations with your teens:
- Do you think TikTok “story times” are healthy or unhealthy? Why?
- How do you create boundaries with your friends? What are they?
- What do you think Jesus means when he calls his disciples friends?