From dance challenges to astrology, book recommendations to cooking, it can be easy to assume that the online content students are consuming is frivolous or benign. But if you’ve been online recently, deciding what is authentic, true, misguided or harmful is a challenge that no platform has mastered. Discerning real from fake is a skill everyone needs, so if you’re ready to learn, let’s start with challenging assumptions.
In a connected world, there’s no doubt that online content has the power to influence your beliefs. Challenging assumptions means identifying beliefs you currently have and deliberately putting them aside. It doesn’t mean being a hater or playing devil’s advocate for the sake of it. Whatever we think about the content we consume, it should come from an informed position, or at the very least an open-minded one.
We’ve put together a few common assumptions people have, so get ready to open your mind to fresh some perspectives. Next time you watch TikTok or YouTube, take time to pause and reflect, and see if you have any of these assumptions yourself!
Assumption #1: But I know them
If you’ve been engaging with someone’s content for a long time, it can feel like you really know them. This can be because they’re of a similar age to you, and you’re watching them have similar experiences to you. It can also be because you’ve seen the inside of their house or car, their family and friends, or even their pets. You’ve got a backstage pass to someone’s life… or do you?
While you might think that you know a creator inside and out, it’s important to remember that what you’re seeing is constructed intentionally for you to view. Content online is different to what they ‘really’ do and how they ‘really’ live. You’re not backstage, you’re in the audience.
Something to try
Pick a person who you follow online. Next time you’re online, pretend you know nothing about them and are watching their content for the first time. See what differences it makes to your perspective on them.
Assumption #2: I like them so I have to defend them
It’s human nature to go to bat for the things you like. This is because what we like becomes entangled in our sense of who we are. If our likes and dislikes are a part of our personality, no wonder we’re on the defensive when they’re called into question! But remember, this isn’t personal. Being critical of what you see online is not the same as being told that what you like is wrong. In fact, understanding why you think the way you do can ensure that you are defending the right things.
Something to try
A great way to get on top of that defensive reaction is to reflect on your own perspective. Pick a content creator and ask yourself “Why do I follow this person?” Notice the way it makes you feel and allow yourself to feel that way. Once you’ve given the initial reaction the room to breathe, you may be better prepared to engage with the question itself.
Assumption #3: They really get me
It’s easy to forget when engaging with content online that we’re in a parasocial relationship. Parasocial relationships are one-sided relationships where one person extends interest and time while the other party, the persona, is completely unaware of the other’s existence.
Here’s a reminder: The content creator doesn’t even know you exist! It can feel like they understand you on a personal level because their content is resonating with you. Especially if you’re seeing their content every day, of course it feels like they get you - it’s like you’re bumping into them every day and every time you do they say something that makes you feel understood!
But remember, while you may have commented during a live stream and had your question answered, that’s not the same as knowing one another. Giving someone attention doesn’t mean that you have a relationship with them. Liking someone and feeling connected to their online persona doesn’t mean that they know you either.
Something to try
How would your friends and family describe you? Reflect on the way you connect with your loved ones and how that informs their perception of you.