Social media isn’t just a way to connect with others but a window to the world. It’s an important source of information on current events, trends, and pop culture, especially for kids. But how does social media shape our world view when different kinds of people are represented, not represented, or misrepresented on it? What are the risks of this to our kids and to us, and what can we do about it?

Stereotypes have long been a scourge in media and many have taken up the fight against them.  That battle has moved to online spaces, particularly in social media.  And issues of representation aren’t limited to the narrow characterization of an entire group of people.  It’s also about who is missing from the picture.  In our 17th episode of the Managing Family Life Online Webinar Series, we spoke to Television & Film students Tyler Dietrich, Aleeyah Ward and Richard Santoyo from California State University, Los Angeles about representation in social media – how it has personally impacted them and how they would change things for the better.  Here were some of the highlights:

  • Social media continues to perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Our guests shared what it is like to view media and never see anyone who looks like you, or to see yourself represented in a way that is negative.  Even in 2021, this is still occurring and we have a long way to go to change both misrepresentation and lack of representation.  One way to break this is to seek out or follow or research others who are different from you online.  Doing this will not only potentially encourage us all to learn more about those who are different from  us, but it may also force the algorithms that determine what we see online to serve us content we might not otherwise see.
  • Social media platforms have different uses and different lenses of the world. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and other social networks are used by different audiences and often for different purposes. Some are used solely to stay informed of current events, some to connect with others, some for fun or education, and some serve more than one of these needs.  While TikTok is best known as a popular destination for entertainment and a large, younger audience, it is also quickly proving itself a truer reflection of the world according to our guests. Instagram and Snapchat appears to be primarily a place to view highly curated content by its users that feels too perfect and an unrealistic representation of the world and its people. TikTok seems to be more authentic, one of the few places where you are likely to see people who are different from you, who may come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, abilities/disabilities, and life experiences.
  • Social media platforms are imperfect, like people. The students felt strongly that as users of social media channels there cannot be too much ‘weight’ placed on the verified status (that blue checkmark) you see next to usernames. Yes, those marks confirm an identity or a brand, but it does not always mean that it is someone with absolute authority on a topic. A lot of content online is sponsored, is based on opinions not facts, or is shared widely without any due diligence done by the person who shared it. If you are ever unsure of what you are seeing or hearing, it is probably safe to do some digging.
  • Social media needs civility, reform, and openness…and so do you. Too often on social platforms, audiences flock together based on similar ‘likes’, topics or beliefs. As such, we have moved further and further away from civil discourse and simply shout out our opinions and tune out anything different. As discussed with a previous guest, algorithms and advertisers have a disproportionate influence over what we see online. Look outward, poke around and explore – both in the channel and out – to see the world as it truly is and to see others as they truly are. Don’t just take what’s displayed to you online first as truth. Seek out opinions that differ from your own. This can help you fight biases, stop the spread of misinformation and help you learn more about others to break the chain of stereotypes, misrepresentation, and lack of representation.

To hear more on this topic, listen to the full conversation here.  And if you are interested in learning more on this topic some additional resources include:

For details on our upcoming webinars or to view past sessions, please visit our Internet Safety Webinars.

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens is Vice President of Global Consumer Education & Marketing at Trend Micro and Founder of the Internet Safety for Kids and Families program. With 25+ years in the tech industry, Lynette speaks and blogs regularly on how to help kids become great digital citizens. She works with communities and 1:1 school districts across the U.S. and around the world to support online safety, digital and media literacy and digital citizenship education. She is a board member of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, an advisory committee member of the Digital Wellness Lab, and serves on the advisory boards of INHOPE and U.S. Safer Internet Day.

Follow her on Twitter @lynettetowens.