If we are serious about addressing the alarming worsening of teens’ mental health, we must reduce their social media use.
Social media the place where Gen Z gets news
NEW YORK –
If young people are spending so much time on social media, it stands to reason that’s a good place to reach them with news.
Operators of the News Movement are betting their business on that hunch. The company, which has been operating for more than a year, hopes to succeed despite journalism being littered with years of unsuccessful attempts to entice people in their 20s to become news consumers.
The brainchild of former Dow Jones executives, the News Movement is using a staff of reporters with an average age of 25 to make tailored news content for sites like TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.
“You really have to stay humble and stay open to different trends and ideas,” said Ramin Beheshti, president and a founder of the organization with former Dow Jones CEO Will Lewis. “We’ve built a newsroom that reflects the audience that we’re trying to go after.”
Among the newsrooms the company is producing TikTok videos for is The Associated Press. The AP has provided office space for the company and Lewis is vice chairman of its board of directors.
Some of the content would startle a news traditionalist.
Recognizing his friends appreciated calming videos, one staff member created an “explainer” on the midterm elections for Snapchat that used video of a horse being groomed, pizza being made and flowers growing while an offscreen voice discusses politics.
In “Get Ready with Me,” two women prepare for work while talking about some things in the news.
There are more typical offerings: video of the earthquake in Turkey, for example, and reports on President Biden’s proposals on abortion and social media. Explainer stories take a step back to tell people why something is news.
Some stories aren’t really news at all, but stem from personal experience. One New York-based journalist who wondered why police didn’t immediately jump onto subway tracks to save someone who fell looked into it to find they were working to stop trains.
Curious about why stories about odd things done by Florida residents are a staple of news coverage, a staff member made a TikTok video showing that it’s partly because police there often release photos and details about incidents faster than other states.
There’s also relatable content that provides a service, of a sort: asking young people on the street some of the excuses they’ve used to break a date.
“News isn’t always what you think it is,” said Jessica Coen, U.S. executive editor, who’s had leadership roles at Mashable, Morning Brew and The Cut.
The News Movement is not trying to be an aggregator, and cover every headline, Coen said. “We’re trying to cover issues where we can provide context and clarity,” she said.
Story formats differ to reflect where they are placed. Most TikTok videos are about a minute, while a meaty YouTube piece about women’s safety and how London police react to assault cases ran for nearly 14 minutes.
Some 60% of people in Gen Z, or young adults up to their mid-20s, say they get news through social media, according to a study by Oliver Wyman and the News Movement. Other studies show people in Gen Z have a lower opinion of traditional news outlets than their elders.
Given this, the News Movement believes that efforts by news organizations to entice young people to their own sites or apps are tough sells.
“News shouldn’t feel like work,” Beheshti said. “It should be part of your daily consumption.”
One person who sampled some of the News Movement’s TikTok stories offered a mixed review, saying they often seemed to emphasize flash over substance. They need to “read the room” better, said Gabriel Glynn-Habron, a 21-year-old college student from Asheville, N.C. who is studying journalism.
“I do appreciate the effort,” he said. “It’s part of what the news media should do more — just show the effort.”
Often, those who try to appeal to young people are unsuccessful because they really don’t understand who they’re trying to reach, said Linda Ellerbee, whose “Nick News” programs for the Nickelodeon network in the 1990s offered a template for success. It’s a mistake to think Gen Z is apathetic; the generation led the way in protesting George Floyd’s death at the hands of police, she said.
“Most attempts to try to deliver news to young people fail because they underestimate the intelligence of their audience,” Ellerbee said. “They talk down to them. They assume that because they’re young, they’re dumb.”
One place where Ellerbee and the News Movement agree is in how many people are frustrated by traditional news because they feel like they’re getting only a piece of a story, or dipping in to a movie somewhere in the middle. That argues for more explainers.
The company’s research found that while young news consumers fact-check information more readily than older peers, they’re also more susceptible to believing misinformation.
Since news is shaky as a business, the News Movement has made diversification a part of its model from the start. It will work with traditional news organizations and help them build social media teams.
The News Movement advises brands on how to reach young consumers and has bought the Recount, which makes video content about American politics for social media and continues to operate as a separate unit.
“We can’t have one way of making money,” Beheshti said.
Social media is devastating teens’ mental health. Here’s what parents can do.
The connection is well-established. Abundant research has linked depression and self-harm to frequency of social media use. And a new study from the American Psychological Association shows that cutting back helps teens feel better. Companies are aware of this; Facebook executive-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed that the company’s own research found that use of their platforms was linked to anxiety, depression and body image issues in teens.
Federal health data highlight why this is so crucial. In 2021, 42 percent of high school students reported feeling so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks that they stopped doing their usual activities. The crisis is particularly pronounced in girls; nearly 3 in 5 teen girls reported persistent feelings of sadness, an increase of over 60 percent since 2011.
Indeed, social media is creating a “perfect storm” for girls, Jelena Kecmanovic, a psychotherapist and adjunct psychology professor at Georgetown University, told me. “Their tendency to be perfectionist and hard on themselves during their tween and teen years gets magnified thousands of times in the online culture of comparison,” she said.
The trouble with online interactions is also what they are replacing. A 2022 survey found that average daily screen use increased further during the pandemic and is now more than 5½ hours among children ages 8 to 12 and a whopping 8 hours and 39 minutes for teens ages 13 to 18. That’s time that previously was spent engaging in-person relationships and on healthier activities such as playing outside, sports and sleep.
Pediatrician Michael Rich, who co-founded and directs the Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital, explained to me that he treats teens who “struggle with physical, mental and social health issues” from excessive social media use. He has seen straight-A students’ grades plummet and young adults struggle to forge relationships after entering college.
Given the magnitude of the problem, solving it might seem daunting for parents. Nevertheless, here are four steps they can take:
Create spaces free from screens.
Kecmanovic suggests establishing guardrails, such as taking away screens during meals and before bedtime. Parents can also limit their kids’ social media use to the shared family space, “not behind locked doors, and definitely not until 2 a.m. in their bedroom” when they should be sleeping.
Given the ubiquity of technology and its use in school curriculums, it might be hard to enforce a screen time limit. Instead, Rich advises setting a minimum time without screens. “That becomes a more practical way to offer our kids a rich and diverse menu of experiences, which can include screens but shouldn’t be dominated by them or become the default behavior,” he said.
Mauritius media guide
The media scene in Mauritius is divided in two, with a highly politicised media, including the national broadcaster, and elsewhere media outlets which can be outspoken but sometimes veer towards sensationalism, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
US-based NGO Freedom House says that the media regulatory agency lacks independence and disproportionately targets opposition media.
Under 2018 changes to the law, journalists can face prison sentences for content that causes “inconvenience, distress, or anxiety”.
Television is the most popular medium. State-owned Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) radio and TV generally reflect government thinking. MBC is funded by advertising and a TV licence fee.
Two media groups – Le Mauricien Ltd and La Sentinelle Ltd – dominate the press scene.
BBC World Service is available via a mediumwave (AM) relay (1575 kHz). Radio France Internationale is relayed on FM.
There were 919,000 internet users by December 2021, comprising 72% of the population (Internetworldstats.com).
Home Office delays Windrush grants amid row over social media posts
The Home Office has decided not to award £150,000-worth of grants to Windrush community organisations, amid internal disagreement about whether funds should be given to groups that have expressed criticism of the government on social media.
In December, civil servants approved applications from 15 organisations to receive about £10,000 of funding each from the Windrush community engagement fund, a grant established in the wake of the 2018 citizenship scandal.
However, their decision was blocked by the home secretary’s private office, because advisers were concerned that two of the groups approved for funding had retweeted posts expressing criticism of the Home Office.
The Windrush National Organisation, the UK’s largest Windrush community organisation, and the University of Leicester Pro Bono clinic, working with the Highfields community centre, both had their grant approval questioned.
Discussions over whether or not they could be removed from the recommended list caused a long delay to the grant process, and eventually the department had decided to scrap the allocation of the fund for 2022-23, a Home Office source said.
The source said there was nothing abusive in the contentious tweets, which consisted of retweeted articles from the Guardian and the Independent covering government immigration policy and pieces highlighting issues around race.
The Windrush community engagement fund was set up to support community groups to raise awareness of the government’s compensation and documentation scheme, and of the Home Office’s other initiatives to support those affected by the department’s Windrush errors, which led to thousands of legal UK residents being mistakenly classified as immigration offenders.
Applicants to the cancelled fund received letters from the Home Office stating: “We are writing to inform you that we are unfortunately withdrawing the competition for this financial year and no funding will be awarded.
“Unfortunately, we have experienced delays with our internal assessment of the latest community engagement fund (CEF) bids leaving successful applicants very little time to spend money before the end of the financial year.”
The letter added: “We will relaunch the competition next financial year. We know this is disappointing news.”
Asked at a public meeting last week about the decision not to distribute £150,000-worth of grants, Angela Wilson, a Home Office civil servant and head of the Windrush external engagement team, said: “This was to do with internal problems with our assessment criteria.”
Applicants to the fund responded with frustration at the time wasted in submitting applications for small grant allocations that were then not distributed.
The source said the eligibility criteria were likely to be rewritten for next year, to request that applicants be prepared to “work constructively” with the Home Office.
Bishop Desmond Jaddoo, the chair of the Windrush National Organisation, was unaware of the context behind the cancellation of the 2022-23 grants. He said his organisation had had a constructive working relationship with the Home Office to date.
“Community-led engagement is intrinsic to righting the wrongs of the Windrush scandal and any available community engagement fund must be timely and commensurate to support the much-needed engagement requirements across the affected diverse communities in the UK and abroad,” he said.
Laura Bee, from the Leicester University Pro Bono clinic, which assists people to make applications to the Windrush compensation scheme, said she had not been told anything about the background to the “disappointing” decision to cancel the fund allocations for last year.
Her organisation had not put anything on social media about Windrush, but the Highfields community centre, where they were planning to hold events, and with whom they had submitted a joint application, had occasionally retweeted articles about Home Office policy.
“Our clinic is well-placed to raise awareness about the compensation scheme and help potential claimants to access the scheme. Our student advisers really value the opportunity to carry out this important work,” she said.
A Home Office spokesperson said the decision to withdraw the fund had been taken due to “internal delays”, and that the scheme would be relaunched in the new financial year. “We continue to provide comprehensive engagement and information to organisations to enable them to support affected individuals,” the spokesperson said.
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