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Social media as a search engine

3 minutes reading time
11-17 years
Social Media
Foto: pexels.com/cottonbrostudio

The latest news, preparation for a paper or the weather forecast – check TikTok right away. Teenagers and young adults in particular are frequent users of social media platforms such as TikTok and YouTube as search engines. This can work, but it also brings its own unique challenges.

Social media as a search engine – what can be found there?

It was taken for granted for a long time – if you want to find something on the Internet, you “Google” it. But that seems to be faltering. Young people are increasingly starting their online searches on social media platforms such as YouTube, TikTok and the like. In some statistics, YouTube even appears as the second largest search engine after Google – and the trend is rising.

Why? That’s quite simple: Social media is the digital home of many young people anyway. That’s where they know their way around, that’s where they feel comfortable – and that’s why they have great confidence in the search results. When young people search here for products, events or places, the results are mostly (seemingly) personal recommendations and experiences from celebrities or from the community, instead of rather impersonal and complicated web links. This makes a credible and approachable impression on young people. In addition, videos or images are easier and more entertaining than eternal clicking through text deserts.

Platforms like TikTok and YouTube are responding to young people’s need to be able to search content easily. TikTok, for example, has made the search field significantly larger and more prominent, and now offers a widget for smartphones that can be used to operate the TikTok search directly from the home screen. The term “widget” comes from English and is a compound word from “window” = window and gadget = technical gadget. “Widget” refers to a type of interactive window.

What can be problematic?

But how can children and young people distinguish trustworthy from dubious information on social media? Is everything there really as authentic as it sometimes seems?

Because, of course, influencers are not always the nice buddies next door – but earn a lot of money with their appearances and recommendations. So if a restaurant is praised here with particularly warm words, it may well be that there is simply a particularly lucrative advertising contract behind it.

In addition, classic advertisements also appear on social networks. The algorithm also still has a say and constantly presents us with similar results – just like other search engines. And caution is also called for in other respects: In addition to serious information, fake news or even deliberate propaganda from various interest groups can also be found on the networks. Social media platforms often collect and collate at least as much data as traditional search engines.

What can parents pay attention to?

As a parent, you should think carefully with your child about how to use the search function of social media services safely:

  • Store multiple accesses to different search engines together on the smartphone or in the browser. This allows your child to search and compare results on multiple tracks as needed.
  • Target accounts of credible, journalistic media, verified companies and individuals and encourage your child to follow them.
  • Together, look at accounts and pages of fact checkers such as mimikama.at, who have made it their mission to debunk fake news. If your child knows these sites, he or she can more easily question and verify information.
  • Talk about topics such as advertising, data protection, business models. Helpful offers to talk about a safe use of the offers on the Internet can be found at klicksafe.

Show interest in your child’s media use and his or her favorite offerings on TikTok and Co. Encourage your child to use social media platforms critically. Only if your child knows the possibilities and also the advantages and disadvantages of different offers, he can choose consciously and purposefully.

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