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Do you know what your kids are doing online? 5 communication apps you should know about

By Jessica E. Hamilton-Monroe


Jessica E. Hamilton Monroe is the founder of The Butterfly Scholars and Chrysalis Camera Academy initiatives, and is the host of the podcast Inside the Chrysalis under the auspices of Chrysalis Camera, LLC .



App # 1-Facebook


Description


Facebook is a social media platform that has gained much popularity with more than 2.4 billion active users. Each user creates a detailed profile of personal information and chooses interests in a variety of categories. Based on a person’s profile information, groups will be suggested to join, other users will be suggested to add as friends and advertisements will offer deals on items that a user would most likely buy. Users range in ages with the majority between the ages of 12 and 34. Interaction on this platform is heavily reliant on how many friends a person has and which friends a person has.


What are the benefits?

Facebook has such a wide audience that it makes it possible to find people whom you may not have normally interacted with. It suggests friends based on the groups that you are affiliated with and allows you to share information in multiple ways using feed posts and stories. Facebook LIVE is a new feature that


What are the risks?

While schools boast that they have Facebook pages, the minimum age for users to create a profile is 18. This means that teen users must fabricate their birthdates, leading other users to assume that they are older than they actually are. Even without the issue of age, there are many predators creating ghost accounts on Facebook for the purposes of scams. Even with a detailed account, a person may not actually be who they seem. Another major red flag is friend requests. Although users can choose who to accept as a friend, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the amount of requests and flattered by the amount of interest. This is a big mistake. Many people, especially males, have been using Facebook as a means of online dating with the intention of having in-person relationships with the people they meet online.


How do you stay safe?

Know who your friends are. If you are in certain social circles, then you will have mutual friends to indicate that a user may actually know you. It may seem like a tedious process, but look through the profiles of people who request your friendship. If their picture is repeated multiple times or they do not show any images of themselves in their posts, it could be a ghost account. Pay attention to how long users have been a member on Facebook. Accounts that were created within the past few months are very suspicious. Users that connect with you on Facebook only to ask to connect with you on another platform such as Hangouts or What’s App may be trying to connect with you without being traced. Most importantly, don’t give your personal information or banking information to anyone.


What does the research say?

Although Facebook has been dominant in social media communication, users of Facebook are declining for a number of reasons. Some push factors include annoyance with continuous posts and the way that people in general present themselves on Facebook. Other users that have quit using Facebook mention irrelevant information overload and a lack of interest in the topics presented. One important pull factor is the availability of newer platforms


Does it have educational value?

Facebook's educational value relies solely on whether users are connected to friends and pages that provide accurate information. Most of the posts consist of opinions, challenges and advertisements.


Link to the app - www.facebook.com



App # 2-Instagram


Description


Instagram is one of the newer social media platforms that has gained more popularity than Facebook in the past year. With over one billion monthly users, the majority of active users are females. Instagram, like all social media, is a for-profit enterprise that embeds commercials within their logic and connectivity. (Maares, 2021) Instagram has popularized visibility politics with hashtag activism. This has been combined with a focus on visual culture, making Instagram the aesthetic representation of user personalities.(Caldeira, 2020). Instagram not only groups its users into interest categories, but use of it identifies users as either producers or consumers. Producers are those who spend time and energy with intentional focus on the content, layout and distribution of their posts. Their goal is to gain an audience by establishing a virtual persona that users can follow and connect with. Consumers are those whose purpose is to find the information that the influencers present within their interest category.


What are the benefits ?

Instagram allows its users to to post on any topic but encourages its users to focus their posts within a certain niche. By honing in on one’s interests, a person can not only find a community of people that are interested in the same activities but also be able to feel more comfortable sharing their original content with users of like minds. Instagram users do not always focus on posting pictures of themselves. “Of approximately 40 billion photos posted on Instagram, only 282 million are selfies - just 0.7%” (Caliandro, 2020) Many of the post feeds are themed and feature the topic of the theme such as motivational quotes or images of butterflies. Some visual artists only post pictures of their artwork while One of the newer features of IG stories allows users to post more immediate pictures and clips with music to represent their current moods. Followers are able to see stories of the day without having to scroll through post feeds. Another feature that is skyrocketing is IG LIVE. Many performing artists have been using this platform as a way of sharing their talents and hosting the talents of others.


What are the risks?

It is very easy to get addicted to checking your phone for likes and followers on Instagram. A major misconception is that getting followers is the most important part of being an Instagrammer. While it is validating to see that people are following your account, it may not necessarily mean that they are liking your content. Just like using the live feature on Facebook, IGLIVE is uncensored. Any viewer can request to participate in a live feed and if they are accepted by the host, their body and background will be immediately broadcast and saved into the feed. There are users who partake in drugs and drinking on camera, use profanity and wear clothing inappropriate for children to view. While each user has a prerogative to post and show what they represent, LIVE content is only regulated by the ethical maturity of those presenting. Just because viewers are not concerned with having youth in their audience doesn’t mean that children are not watching. Another feature to watch out for is sponsoring. Sponsored advertisements are sprinkled into feeds as a person views the posts of the people that they are following. They are intentionally designed to look interesting but link directly to sites where clothing and accessories can be bought. These advertisements are more likely for you to select because they too target an audience that follows similar themes. For example, if you have shown any interest in body image and fashion, you will be targeted for advertisements of cosmetics, fitness clothing, and accessories. Because there is such competition in the market, there may be several companies selling similar products. This increases the amount of ads that you see and increases your likelihood of purchasing something.


How do you stay safe?

Follow your children on Instagram. Not only will you be able to see what they post, but you will be able to show them support for their interests by liking and commenting on their content. Instagram can be accessed at any time and IG LIVE shows are broadcast at all times of the day. Be aware of the times of phone use and set a cut off time for viewing so that they are not viewing and participating in the late night LIVEs that usually have more questionable content. Discuss rules of netiquette with your children so that they interact respectfully and do not post something that they may regret in the future.


What does the research say?

Instagram is dominated by opinion leadership. When users become important sources of advice or content, they gain more followers. Because of this, Instagram is getting a steady increase in active users related to the fashion industry. (Casalo, Flavian & Ibanez-Sanchez, 2020) Opinion leaders influence the decision making of others because they are regarded as an expert with reliable information on their focus topic.


Does it have educational value?

Instagram can have educational value if a user follows businesses and influencers that provide reliable information about topics on a consistent basis. Since it requires an account to participate, it is also not intended for users under the age of 18. While its niche audiences may contribute to a collective information sharing, further research is needed to determine whether the Instagram platform could be useful to educators in the classroom.


Link to the app - www.instagram.com



App # 3-YouTube


Description


YouTube is the largest video-sharing platform with more than one billion users. (Tang, 2021) It was launched in 2005 to enable subscribers to create, upload and share original content ranging from homemade videos to movie scenes. It highlights the emerging participatory culture in which people acquire information on demand and simultaneously interact with others. (Dubovi, 2020) The YouTube social media platform is focused more on the presentation and sharing of video content. It is the very definition of on demand television because users get to select what they want to watch. With YouTube, users are also identified in three ways. The first type of user is the casual channel surfer. The casual surfer may visit YouTube once a week to look for information on a topic that they are currently interested in. Then there is the subscriber who may interact with YouTube daily. Subscribers have specific interests and gather playlists of channels that they go back to view repeatedly. Subscribers have loyalty to channels that post frequent video content that matches their interests. As a result, subscribers request notification of future video posts and usually utilize the comment feature where feedback and opinions can be posted on specific videos. The third type of YouTuber is the content creator. Although content creators may not be on YouTube daily, they are essentially creating video content 24/7. These creators are immersed in specific genres and document their ideas, opinions, talents and emotions with the use of video editing and the YouTube platform to share with the world.


What are the benefits ?

YouTube stands out in its searchability. Users are able to type the topic they are searching for as a query and receive an endless list of related video resources. YouTube does have its own monitoring feature and separates videos that are made for adults from the ones that are made for kids. Videos made for kids are confirmed to have no advertisements, not profanity and removal of sexually suggestive of questionable content. Another benefit is that as a user, there is no commitment to staying with a particular channel. Users are free to add and remove the channels they subscribe to and even report videos that they feel are breaking rules of netiquette.


What are the risks?

The two major issues with viewing YouTube content is misinformation and targeted advertising. One of the forms of misinformation is within the ‘fitspiration’ movement. Fitness YouTubers have been found to promote unhealthy behaviors to achieve fitness, and commenters expressed belief in and replication of their advice. (Ratwatte, 2019) YouTube is an intelligent engine. It not only keeps track of a person’s interests to present them with video options for their searches, but it also learns a user's interests and applies it to an algorithm to recommend videos and advertising products. Personalizing of content creates filter bubbles, in which algorithms recommend information that users have been previously exposed to and already agree with. Similarly, echo chambers expose users to content that matches the topics and metadata of videos previously seen, exposing users to repeated conforming opinions. (Tang, 2021) Advertisements linked to the algorithm provide constant suggestions in the margin, pop-up windows, and in mid-video commercials for users to purchase items that are similar to their interests and past purchases. This makes them much more likely to click the links and spend their money on products that they already have a connection to. While this personalization of YouTube can comfort a user into being surrounded by content that is relevant to their interests, it lulls users into a state of niche isolation. This isolation prevents users from being exposed to multiple perspectives and separates groups of people with similar ideologies into an illusion that all of the content available is already in sync with their beliefs - even if those beliefs are not scientifically proven or accurate. An extreme example of this is YouTube response videos that have become popular among political content creators. Even though the creators may frame their response videos as debates, the people and subjects that they target claim that they function as harassment from the creator and networked audience. (Lewis, 2021).


How do you stay safe?

Make sure that you and your child have separate accounts so that they do not have access to the videos you watch. Set a parental control on the kid’s account so that the videos they have access to are within the acceptable viewing standards set by YouTube. Discuss your child’s interests with them and sit with them to search for channels that you both agree are interesting and appropriate. Have conversations with your child’s teachers about the videos that they would suggest related to the school curriculum. If your child is interested in being a content creator, seek out tutorials for them to learn more or enroll them in online creator training such as The Chrysalis Camera Academy.


What does the research say?

Individuals consume media using the selective exposure paradigm, which predicts that people select media content consistent with their existing beliefs and attitudes. Today, that influence relies heavily upon recommendations of friends or celebrities. (Tang, 2021) For the most part, those interests are only educational within a certain niche such as fashion, gaming, hair care, beauty tips, or fitness. YouTube has become a phenomenon of informal learning. Instead of being guided by a program of curriculum, it involves the experiences of daily life such as interactions with peers in school or work, (Dubovi, 2020) Within the YouTube platform, these interactions take the form of views, likes and comments. YouTube is also a digital battlefield for societal norms in the forms of influencer trend power and algorithmic culture jamming. Influencers capitalize on their popularity with their audience to promote, sample and distribute brand products that they may receive sponsorship for. In documenting their ‘hauls’, influencers give viewers a look at what products feel like and how they perform in the real world. While this does offer a more true to life perspective of certain products than just seeing a close up of the product packaging on a website, there has become much bias in the types of products used. On the opposite side of the digital battle field are culture jammers. Culture jammers shift the perspectives of promotional culture by using the same formats as social influencers. Instead of promoting a product, jammers attempt to reduce the saturation of media in strategies such as ‘subvertising’ that build a collective resistance to products and consumerism. (Wood, 2020)


Does it have educational value?

YouTube can be very educational and has many uses for educators. While it still requires strategic curation of appropriate videos for students to view, YouTube is embeddable to teacher websites, google slides, and interactive educational platforms such as Nearpod. Our society is becoming a generation of free-choice learners. The more traditional aspects of education such as reading books, watching television programs and visiting museums have been effective vehicles for learning thus far. Free-choice learners, however, do not rely on the structured curriculum of institutions and search for information in immersive experiences where they can personally interact with the learning topic. Additionally, free-choice learners have turned to YouTube, uploading more than 500 hours of video each minute on topics ranging from archaeology to zoology. (Amos, 2021)


Link to the app - www.youtube.com




App # 4-Snapchat


Description


Since 2011, Snapchat has been a social media networking application that utilizes augmented reality in order to engage its users. “The AR lens enables users to change their face, body and physical environments with superimposing brands or branded content virtually.” (Dodoo, 2021)


What are the benefits ?

Users have much more interactivity with snapchat features as the augmented reality allows them to apply their choice of filters to their physical appearance and physical environment. Additionally, the navigation within snapchat is based on direct message to users so there usually isn’t unsolicited content from unknown sources. AR ad filters give users full choice of whether they want to augment features of the company brand into their images. This gives users a feeling of empowerment and encourages brand loyalty since pictures are usually saved for future use and sharing. Snapchat also has a timing safeguard that keeps images from being inaccessible by others after a certain time period. This gives an added feature of security to users.


What are the risks?

Since the augmented reality lens is a distinctive advertising format that is specific to Snapchat, it differs from advertising formats offered by other social media. (Dodoo, 2021) Snapchat has the ability to establish timers before a message disappears. While this can be seen as a security feature, it also serves as an enabling tool for ill-intended users within a person’s social circle to solicit sexual relationships without others being able to see or track their inappropriate requests.(Charteris, 2018) This is exacerbated by the visual products created using AR filters that accentuate feminine features and apply cosmetics to make the subject appear more sensual and visually appealing.


How do you stay safe?

An immediate response has been criminalizing youth in their miseducated attempts to connect with peers by augmenting and sexualizing their physical appearance. These moral panics have been associated with the policing and protection of girls’ bodies, but do not tackle the deeper issues that networks like Snapchat illuminate. (Charteris, 2018) While the more political issues of gender equity and legal issues of child pornography keep parents fearful of even allowing their children to use mobile devices, the solutions to the issues have not been as effective in restricting use. Although many parents become so caught up in their own day-to-day happenings, they can set aside time daily for genuine face-to-face discussions with their children. The younger that children are using mobile devices, the younger they are when they are exposed to sexual content. Parents having honest conversations about sexual content on the internet as well as children’s intended or unintended exposure to it is crucial. The dreaded conversation of the birds and the bees has been avoided throughout time because it is viewed as awkward, uncomfortable and embarrassing. But these very conversations and occasional check-in discussions between parents and youth will encourage children to ask the questions they already have and get answers from more reliable sources - their parents. Parents may not have all the answers, but they usually have their child’s best interest at heart, and can seek professional assistance from several resources. Schools are staffed with social workers and counselors that can address concerns of this type. Pediatricians can recommend a hospital clinic or specialist that can not only speak with youth but also provide physical examinations and contraceptive options if the need arises. There are also supportive programs such as The Butterfly Scholars community that have in-person and online workshops about self-esteem, body-positivity, and appropriate netiquette for interaction on web platforms. The ways of staying safe can be applied to all social media platforms, however, when it comes to Snapchat, acknowledging your natural beauty before the filters are applied is extremely helpful in preventing the many pitfalls that result from actions taken by those with low-self-esteem.


What does the research say?

Research shows that the choices of filters provided on Snapchat contribute to the focus of unattainable societal standards of beauty. “Snapchat allows users to apply lenses to photographic content, with these lenses often enhancing physical appearance. This may lead users to adopt unrealistic ideals of physical appearance.“ (Burnell, 2021) With consistent use of AR filters, users create an alternate representation of themselves that is shared with the world -one that they can never physically match in terms of real life. As a result of this, users can develop a distorted opinion of their self-image and disengage from real-life physical interaction because they are reliant on people viewing them in the way that filters make possible through Snapchat.


Does it have educational value?

There is little research on the educational aspects of Snapchat. The augmented reality feature can be used with other software programs for educational purposes, but it has not yet been utilized by Snapchat for anything other than for entertainment. Based on the choices of AR filters available and the partnership with Bitmoji, educators could use Snapchat to create superimposed content of themselves that could personalize curriculum content in online and in-person classroom settings. Due to the many security risks and ambiguity in the interaction of teachers and students in the digital age, it is not recommended for educators to use Snapchat in the classroom or facilitate communication on the platform between themselves and students or between students and their peers.


Link to the app -https://www.snapchat.com/



App # 5-TikTok



Description

Released in the United States in 2017, TikTok is the newest and fastest growing social media platform with active users at nearly two billion people. Formerly known as musical.ly, it is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance with the original purpose of creating and sharing short dance, lip-sync, comedy and talent videos. Users can upload videos that play on a 15 second loop or combine multiple segments to form a 60 second video.(Weimann, 2020) Add-on features such as music samples, filters, and stickers increase the visual aesthetic of the content and engage users' short attention span.


What are the benefits ?

TikTok encourages all of its users to be content creators and designed an easily accessible navigation for ease of use. This is one of the reasons it is so popular with young users. Users can also choose to make their uploads publicly visible or restrict visibility to the friends that they authorize. Other users can post reactions to videos by leaving text comments, messages, and heart icons. A duet feature also allows two users in different locations to create content that can be shared within the same video. TikTok also participates in hashtag activism with regular challenges that connect user content to a social cause. (Smuskiewicz, 2021) Public healthcare entities have been tapping into the popularity of TikTok by using the short-form videos to spread health related information in the hopes of affecting public behavior. (Wang, 2020)


What are the risks?

A major drawback to providing snapshots of your life on social media platforms is the risk of personal information being misused. There has been a class action suit against TIkTok alleging that the platform infiltrated its users’ devices to collect their facial data and profile them for advertising. TIkTok was also accused of using facial algorithms to identify the age, gender and ethnicity of users and sending the recognition data to its parent company in China. Although the company disagreed with the allegations, they decided to settle the case for $92 million, and instead focus on building a more safe and enjoyable experience for TIkTok users. (Biometric Technology Today, 2021) “TikTok has been the subject of troubling reports about its content, which is reportedly filled with nude images of children, child predators, devious algorithms, lack of privacy, and teens bullying and harassing one another.” (Weimann, 2020) Yet another risk of interaction on TikTok and other social media platforms is the recent increase in extremist groups. Unlike other social media platforms, TikTok’s users are mostly young children who are more susceptible to malicious content. Since TikTok is the youngest platform, it has not had as much experience as Facebook and Instagram with applying Terms of Service that do not allow postings designed to deliberately harass, harm, scare, embarrass, upset or threaten people. (Weimann, 2020)


How do you stay safe?

Because of its many risks advertised in recent news, the easiest way to avoid any TIkTok pitfalls would be to not use it. However, with its exponentially growing popularity, it would be a nearly impossible task to forbid it from use by teenagers without taking their mobile devices completely. Because TIkTok does not have its own censors and content monitoring system developed yet, they would not be helpful in establishing parental controls on devices. Similar to solutions with the aforementioned social media apps, honest conversations with teens about their use and expectations of propriety can go a long way to preventing their inappropriate self-exposure. Informing all users about the different types of propaganda that can be considered antagonising, harassing, hateful or violent can also decrease the popularity of negative posts. Since TikTok is essentially for dance and other creative talents, parents could take the leap to be a part of their child’s content. It would not only provide opportunities of quality time in learning the dances and songs, but it would also ensure for parents that they know what content their child is distributing.


What does the research say?

Recent studies have shown that the Coronavirus pandemic quarantine has substantially increased the use and visibility of TikTok as a short-term solution for cabin fever boredom. The platform was seen as both a celebration of youth and a success story of a business during a global economic crisis. (Kennedy, 2020) Research has found several different aspects of TikTok that deserve attention by parents. The generalization of extremism actually refers to a wide range of content that even adults may not be completely aware of. Regardless of which side the beliefs of the content are on, far right and far-left extremism are very present. “Far-right” refers to a political ideology that centers on exclusive nationalism, fascism, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-immigration, chauvinism, nativism, anti-LGBTQ, involuntary celibacy movements and xenophobia.(Weimann, 2021) While not all far-right groups are automatically violent, the transmission of their uncensored message in the short media format of TikTok deceives young users into believing that these ideas are not considered hate speech and therefore acceptable to repeat and share.


Does it have educational value?

Social media content allows youth to build identities through the content and frequency of their posts and helps illuminate how young people choose to portray and share their lives online. (Literat, 2021) This is, however, not similar to the developed character creation that is involved in narrative writing. With its short-form videos, it is not likely that TikTok will have a significant connection to academic content that results in acquisition and retention of valuable knowledge. Further research is needed on the educational outlook of TikTok use and its efficacy before even proposing that it be incorporated into classroom settings.


Link to the app - www.tiktok.com



Conclusion - Looking Towards Tomorrow


Ultimately, online social platforms are only as good as the people who use them. The purpose is to interact with others around the world, however, there are many people with ill intentions that users and parents should be wary of. Social media in essence is designed to bring users back daily for doses of attention and instant gratification. This can not only lead to addiction , but also to a diagnosis unofficially named “Social Network Use Disorder” or SNUD. Studies have linked SNUD with depression, social anxiety, insomnia, neuroticism, and impulsivity. (Rozgonjuk, 2020) Additionally, even though teenagers are very interested and engaged in

social media platforms, they may be unable to decipher the marketing messages aimed at them or be able to protect themselves from harmful posts that raise ethical concerns. However, online social networks also empower teenagers to enhance their social skills. (Gentina, 2021) It will take the efforts of all stakeholders to ensure the physical, intellectual and emotional safety of today’s youth.

Parents and educators can work as a team to inform and support youth in their online experiences. At home, parents can have discussions with teens about

boundaries, expectations, netiquette and warning signs of predators online. A combination of in-person shared surfing and reasonable parental controls can keep adolescents from veering too far away from appropriate content. With thoughtful planning, educators can utilize this platform to enhance the online and in-person classroom experience by curating content that relates to the traditional curriculum. But this is not enough. Schools and districts must also make a concerted effort to include media literacy within school

curriculum as both an isolated subject that focuses on the logistics of the internet as well as an integrated medium for research and presentation of student work. Finally, as teens are becoming more empowered with information about where and how to interact online, they can influence their peers to make more acceptable choices in their subscriptions, following, posting, commenting and creation of content.



References


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