Students in this high school have a warning about adolescents and social media

This means that often Mrs. Knight gives the boys the most rude ideas and encourages them to be creative. That’s why, when Harrison came up with an idea for the NPR’s Student Podcast Challenge, he said, “Why not?”

Harrison’s interest in the competition did not surprise anyone. He wears chunky headphones around his neck every day like a uniform and says he grew up on public radio. “[My family] There is a system on long road trips, we listen This is American life. On short road trips, we hear Wait, wait, don’t tell me

Kit also brought a love of podcasting to the effort: “My dad forced me to listen to podcasts, and we just listened to them in the car and at home. You know, he never came to music. He was mostly on podcasts,” says Kit, in particular. Insects.

For their entry, Harrison, Kit and the team wanted to explore how Williams Middle School and probably every middle and high school student in the country interacted on social media. Especially when they go to a platform like TikTok or Instagram and create anonymous accounts to share things about the school and their classmates.

“People feel anonymous, so they think they can do whatever they want.”

For example: an account dedicated to pictures of students considered “hot”.

“My friend was there,” Blake says, “and I texted him, ‘Hey, did you know you’re on this Instagram account?’ And he’s like, ‘What ?!’ “

Most of these accounts are “not even gossip,” Blake adds, “they are just pictures of people sleeping, eating, being surprised, acting sad.”

One account was entirely dedicated to pictures of students sleeping in class. Harrison says on some accounts, students joke, but often they don’t.

“Through the internet … people feel anonymous, so they think they can do whatever they want – and get likes for it without penalty.”

The boys found at least 81 of these accounts in Williams alone. Then they got a bold idea.

Fake until you do it

“After looking at all these social media pages, we decided it would be fun if we just created our own profile and posted fake gossip to see the impact and how it spread through a high school,” they explain in the podcast.

Fake gossip is keeping it mild.

“We knocked on the door of our school police officer and asked if he would pretend to arrest a member of our AV club for the camera. Surprisingly, he actually agreed,” Harrison said.

This was the first video to go to their new gossip account. “We didn’t expect it to actually reach anywhere, but less than 15 minutes later, we heard people start talking about it.”

Four students who won the NPR Student Podcast Challenge for Middle School
Wesley Helmer, Kit Atbury, Harrison MacDonald and Blake Turley, NPR Student Podcast Challenge Middle School winners at Williams Middle School in Rockwall, Texas. (Cooper Neil for NPR)

Next up: The boys fought in the band room, hoping that a shaky camera and the sound effects added to the post-production would make their classmates realize that it was big and very real.

In the podcast, Harrison said, “Some of us kids would walk up to us every day so that we were completely destroyed in that fight or how they didn’t know we were in the band. We were joking about it now,” Harrison said in the podcast. “It didn’t take long for our fake account to start gaining more followers than any other gossip account we could find.”

“Our generation loves to talk digitally”

As a social experiment, these four middle-schoolers went from quiet observers on social media to school masterminds – even though what they posted was completely fake. Thus, podcast media serves as a warning about the importance of literacy – at a time when Americans have been sucking their seniors through social media every day for half a century.

But the podcast is not just a reprimand about fake news. How it is, for kids their age, communicate it.

“We don’t pass notes, we send texts with our phones hidden under our desks,” Harrison said. “We don’t tell people what happened in class, we post it on the ticket. Our generation likes to talk to each other digitally from afar, [rather] Than communicating with each other in the real world. “

The boys named their podcast, The world we created.

Mrs. Knight, a senior teacher, says she has seen these changes in students over the years.

“I just think a lot less talk and a lot more, you know, instead of swiping their phones and saying, ‘Hey, guess what I saw today?’ “

Knight even saw it in his own family. “I’ll talk to my husband, ‘Oh, have you seen our eldest daughter?’ He lives in California and says, ‘What do you do when you know this?’ “

His answer: “Because I’m following his social media and his friends’ social media.” Because if you don’t, he probably won’t pick up the phone and call us and tell us. “

That bad instinct? Knight says, no, not necessarily. He sees more of what his daughters and his friends, far and wide, are doing.

The boys’ perspectives are similarly complex. All of this “digital talking” can be a real “curse” for teens, they say, especially when it hurts or excludes others. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

After all, boys say, the whole purpose of technology, from radio to telephone, from TV to the Internet, has always helped us to feel less alone and more connected – to help us build the world – and to build communities – bigger than we were born.