Social Media Literacy Requires Perspective… And Games?!

At least two or three times a week, I get that feeling while thumbing through a social media app. “Jon – you’re doomscroling.”

Doomscrolling, for those unfamiliar with the phrase, refers to the act of spending a large amount of time viewing a series of negative posts online. It starts with a few pessimistic political updates from an influential figure, followed by reading the comments of some internet trolls insulting their intelligence. Then you click on one of the keywords from the post and see what others are saying, only to find the discussion launches into misleading links, videos, and falsehoods meant to generate clicks. Before you know it, an hour has passed.

Sometimes you catch yourself doomscrolling and laugh. You are aware enough to catch it, after all! But what about our youth? A 2023 survey revealed that 93 percent of teens aged 12-15 use social media regularly. Not shocking, right? But what about these numbers – 30 percent of children aged 5-7 use social media, and an incredible 63 percent of children aged 8-11 use it consistently.

Beyond concerns about the age and developmental level of engaging with social media posts on a daily basis, parents and guardians also worry about their children being exposed to negative content and heavy-handed advertising. In the same 2023 survey, 60 percent of parents/guardians brought up fears over their children being “influenced by extreme views,” and 50 percent worried about their kids being pressured into “spending money online.” Concerns over social media sites like Instagram and Facebook have gotten so large that 33 U.S. states have sued the apps’ parent company, Meta, for exploiting teens with addicting and harmful practices. The lawsuit alleges that Meta knowingly targeted users below 13 with data-driven practices meant to keep them on the screen and erode their self-esteem.

So what can be done to help our youth enhance their social media literacy? Simply banning children and teens from using social media feels unrealistic and could leave them ill-equipped to properly navigate the various apps and platforms later in life. Instead, helping youth understand HOW social media companies operate and curate their content and WHY they do what they do allows teens to build their social media literacy toolkits.

How do we teach children how social media companies work? One of the best teachers in life is perspective – seeing through the eyes of someone else to understand their motivations, decisions, and more. In our upcoming game, Doomscroll, we give players exactly that perspective – the viewpoint of the social media company. In the game, each player has one goal – to create the most addicting and engaging feed possible in order to sell ads.

Players get the chance to see firsthand what makes for an addicting feed – they target users with their favorite topics, sprinkle in some emotional posts to get them riled up, and drop in some visuals to keep them scrolling. Need a little jumpstart? Players can also recruit influential people – politicians, stars, activists – to their social media platform to up their chances of selling products.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Games alone do not help people build skills.” I would agree! The most important part of a game like Doomscroll is the conversation you have after the game. What strategies were necessary to sell your ads? What role did emotion play in your approach? How does this experience compare or contrast with your own experiences on social media? Those conversations are the magic of Doomscroll.

I would love for you to give Doomscroll a go – it can help you avoid those same moments I have each week where I realize I’ve given an hour to advertisers, influencers, and social media companies!

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