Is TikTok harming the way Gen Z gets breaking news?

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How many times have you been scrolling on TikTok, laughing at your FYP when out of nowhere an urgent message about a major world event is presented to you so casually? “Breaking News” TikToks can often create a false sense of severity among Gen Z, and how we absorb the information given to us. Between the skewed presentation and insensitive satire, is gen z desensitizing itself to breaking news?

Prior to the current news of the growing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, young creators on TikTok would make informative videos to appeal to younger audiences, and inform them about current events. More recently, it has become common for these informative videos to take a turn to the side of falsity, sometimes on purpose, or satire. The satirical side of the misinformation is where the concern comes for the desensitization and normalization of these world-shattering events for the youth who use not only Tik Tok but platforms like Instagram and Twitter as well. USA Today makes a bold statement about how TikTok is acting as an anti-Ukraine database through satire and falsities. A bold statement, Armies of trolls and bots stir up anti-Ukrainian sentiment. State-controlled media outlets look to divide Western audiences. Clever TikTok videos serve up Russian nationalism with a side of humor” (Klepper 1). Most commonly the videos will be captioned with titles such as “POV: Europeans after we get nuked by Russia,” with the video of a dancing skeleton in the back. The comments get even worse with people saying “First war guys…what should I wear?” Through these short clips that have a lighthearted tone at first glance, the viewers, who are generally younger, are getting skewed information of major world events. The content that is being viewed, if really taken in, is an unimaginable reaction to the world today. Unfortunately, this is far too common on social media today.

Along with TikTok, a plethora of social media platforms are becoming a harmful factor in the spread of misinformation, but more importantly satire and memes about an unimaginable global crisis. Instagram, an extremely popular platform among gen z, has become the ultimate source of political memes and satirical content in general. Content regarding Russia and Ukraine has been circulating and causing mass movements of people speaking out on the crisis. While some information is helpful, other infographics are clearly to rile up “Instagram activists” just for fun. In a disheartening way, it is not surprising to see this happen. History repeats itself as we know, and it is clear to look back and see similar trends that popped up through the Covid-19 pandemic, the election, and other major global events. The reactions are mixed when it comes to this situation from youth, “it makes me feel embarrassed about how our generation is reacting to this crisis, it is like they do not actually realize how they are contributing to the problem,” clearly a strong statement that varies from another standpoint, “I know it is not right, but I do laugh when I see the memes because how can you not.” Both quotes were from two different 19-year-olds in college. If our generation can not grasp the severity of our words and actions, how will we fix the issues presented to us? 

It is important to note the accounts that are using social media as a tool for good. This topic can cause a lot of stress and trauma to arise within many communities. On Instagram, the account @theprogressivists posted a reel with information unpacking the misinformation that was commonly being seen. The reel addresses the harm of old footage and unrelated content. The videos and images being presented in a lot of these satirical videos are taken from past occurrences that have nothing to do with what is actually happening, it is all for dramatic effect and views. It is important to realize that although some clips are not relevant, that does not mean they all are. It is critical not to minimize the reality of the world at the moment, and that is why we need to take our information and digest it, check it, and understand.

The most important thing to do in a time like this is to not allow yourself to fall down the scrolling rabbit hole. It is hard not to when everything is presented in easy and accessible forms. Learning about global events is something that Tik Tok was not meant for. Take the initiative to find credible sources and first-hand accounts, so you can spot when something is only there to cause stress and get views. Gen Z has a powerful force, but we need to use it right. We need to end the cycle of misinformation and harm in social media. Use your voice for good, not malice.