Yogi Muise, cornerstone member of Cape Breton’s Men of the Deeps, has died

Yogi Muise performed with the choir of former Cape Breton coal miners for over 50 years.

Yogi Muise (left) performs with Men of the Deeps. (Submitted by Jenn Sheppard)

Yogi Muise, a longtime member of Cape Breton’s Men of the Deeps, has died.

He performed with the choir of former coal miners for over 50 years.

Muise, who was 85, is being remembered for his love of music as well as being a big, gentle man who loved to listen to people’s stories.

Stephen Muise, his son and the musical director of the Men of the Deeps, said his father was “a great man.”

“If you had a story to tell, he would sit and listen, a song to sing, he would sit and listen to you,” said Stephen Muise.

Yogi Muise had no shortage of his own stories to tell. His son said when the choir would get together after shows, his father and Jim (Big) MacLellan would entertain the group for hours.

“He had no trouble commanding a room,” said Stephen Muise. “If there were stories to be told, Yogi would not fall short.”

Yogi Muise worked as a coal miner in his younger years starting when he was a teenager, but he didn’t stay in the profession forever.

He was also a teacher in the New Waterford area of Cape Breton for over 30 years.

Jenn Sheppard, his daughter-in-law, first met him when he taught her science in Grade 9.

Yogi Muise as a young man. (Submitted by Jenn Sheppard)

She said her first impression was that he was a bear of a man and had a way of drawing you in.

“Anybody you talk to will say, ‘He gave me a bear hug and changed my life’ or, ‘He sat and listened to me and he gave me a piece of advice,'” said Sheppard.

“He was just like a dad to pretty much everybody he met.”

He was also a well-known volunteer that sat on many committees including Glace Bay’s Miners Museum.

Sheppard said before he left the miners museum board, he made sure he had a good replacement and that the position was in good hands.

Yogi Muise is pictured with Cape Breton singer Rita MacNeil. The Men of the Deeps were well known for their performance of MacNeil’s song ‘Working Man.’ (Submitted by Jenn Sheppard)

Mary Pat Mombourquette, executive director of the miners museum, said she remembers when the Men of the Deeps went to Kosovo and Muise wrote everything down to tell people about it when he got back home.

“He was just such a thoughtful, kind person to do that, like go out and have these remarkable experiences and then come back and share them,” said Mombourquette.

He spent many years as the business manager for the Men of the Deeps, making all the arrangements when they travelled the world.

with files from Mainstreet Cape Breton.


Alex Trebek honoured with Geographical Society grant program for emerging explorers

The late Alex Trebek, who began his career at the CBC and hosted the iconic game show Jeopardy for 37 years, is being honoured with a grant program that aims to award $400,000 annually to emerging Canadian explorers, scientists, educators and photographers.

Alex Trebek, the longtime host of Jeopardy who was born in Sudbury, Ont., and would have turned 81 this week, died in November 2020. A new grant program called The Trebek Initiative will help emerging Canadian explorers, scientists, educators and photographers. (Colin Rowe/Canadian Geographic)

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society in Canada and the National Geographic Society in the U.S. are honouring the late Alex Trebek with a special grant program named after the longtime Jeopardy host.

Trebek, who grew up in Sudbury, Ont., began his TV career at the CBC in 1961 and hosted several game shows before joining Jeopardy nearly four decades before his November 2020 death. He would have turned 81 on Thursday.

During his lifetime, Trebek had been involved with both geographical societies, so in honour of his birthday, The Trebek Initiative was launched.

The grant program aims to promote emerging Canadian explorers, scientists, educators and photographers, said David Court, chair of The Trebek Initiative, “to help them to tell their story with a goal of igniting what we call a ‘passion to preserve’ in all Canadians.”

Jean Trebek said she’s heartened to see her husband’s memory and philanthropic legacy honoured.

Alex was incredibly passionate about geographic education and exploration, believing it to be critical to understanding our planet and the impact of a changing environment.– Jean Trebek

“Alex was incredibly passionate about geographic education and exploration, believing it to be critical to understanding our planet and the impact of a changing environment,” she said.

“As such, lending his name to this initiative to help support the work of emerging Canadian explorers was a natural extension of his belief in the power of lifelong learning.”

The program will provide $400,000 to $500,000 a year in grants to support expeditionary work. Between 10 and 12 grants will be handed out each year.

Court said there are similar grant programs in other parts of the world, including the U.S., “just not in Canada.”

He said the funding — at least for the first three years of The Trebek Initiative — is from 18 families from across Canada.

Word of the grants spreading already   

Applications are coming in already.

“People have started putting in inquiries, making early applications, so they can work on them over time. And we are expecting that we will have some things up and going even this year,” Court said.

He said some of the submissions they’ve already received are “all over the map” in terms of topics and categories.

“An example would be we’ve got one that’s looking at exploring underwater caves in British Columbia; we’ve got scientific research on Canadian wildlife. There’s some things on Canadian deer. There is wilderness and water. We’ve got one we’ve been talking to that is dealing with water scarcity in northern communities or we’ve got also photography.”

Court said it’s important to have such a program in Canada.

“I don’t think Canadians know enough about their country and they have an incredible thirst to know more.”

He said there are a number of young or emerging explorers doing fascinating work, but the details of those efforts aren’t getting out to others.

“Between the funding we can provide — but maybe equally, or if not more importantly — is getting them connected to National Geographic, which is one of the great storytelling organizations there is, we can get these stories out to Canada,” Court said.

Grants aim to ‘ignite the passion’

“Great storytelling can change the world,” said Alex Moen, chief explorer engagement officer for the National Geographical Society.

“Through The Trebek Initiative grants and the explorations to come, we want to ignite the passion to preserve our environment and the planet in every Canadian,” said Moen.

“Our mission with The Trebek Initiative is to inspire Canadians to make lasting, positive changes for the health of our planet,” said John Geiger, chief executive officer of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.

Up North8:05Trebek Initiative launches

A new fund in honour of the late Alex Trebek has been launched today, on what would have been his 81st birthday. We spoke with David Court about how the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the National Geographic Society in the U.S. teamed up to create the Trebek Initiative. 8:05


Kanye West unveils Donda album at massive Atlanta event

Kanye West barely said a word during his impromptu album listening-session Thursday night, but the mercurial rapper still had most attendees standing on their feet while hanging on every word of his new project.

In this file photo from 2006, Kanye West and his mother, Donda, attend the 48th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. West’s 10th studio album is named after his mother, who died at the age of 58 following plastic surgery complications in 2007. (Reed Saxon/AP)

Kanye West barely said a word during his impromptu album listening-session Thursday night, but the mercurial rapper still had most attendees standing on their feet while hanging on every word of his new project.

West unveiled his 10th studio album, Donda in front of a packed crowd at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. His album was named after his mother, Donda West, who died at the age of 58 following plastic surgery complications in 2007.

Pulling off the listening session — which was livestreamed on Apple Music — was an impressive feat for West, who sold out the venue after he announced two days prior that the first public listen of his highly-anticipated album would take place. Some of the big names who attended the event were Rick Ross, Khloe Kardashian and his soon-to-be ex-wife Kim Kardashian West, who showed up in a red jumpsuit with their children.

Unlike West’s typical high-energy concerts, he appeared more mellow than usual. He let his music do the talking while most attendees listened to each song in silence and applauded at the end of each track of his album that features gospel themes, hip-hop vibes, his autotune-altered vocals, and recorded speeches made by his mother.

Kanye West alternately walked, fell to his knees, and pranced around for attendees at the sold out Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Thursday. (Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Universal Music Group)

While sporting an all-red outfit with orange shoes, West alternately walked, fell to his knees, and pranced around white flooring about the size of the football field, where the city’s professional football and soccer teams play home games.

During the NBA Finals on Tuesday, the 22-time Grammy winner had revealed in a commercial — featuring U.S. track star Sha’Carri Richardson — that his highly-anticipated album would release on Friday. The commercial, scored and directed by West, featured No Child Left Behind, a song from the album.

But as of Friday afternoon, West’s album was still not available on music streaming services, leading fans to joke about the rapper’s track record of missing his scheduled release dates. 

WATCH | A commercial scored and directed by West featuring a song from Donda

Though West, 44, is mostly known as being associated with Chicago, he was born in Atlanta — a Georgia city where there are currently no restrictions against large gatherings. The rapper-producer gifted 5,000 tickets to faculty, staff and students from some Atlanta HBCUs (historically black colleges or universities) including Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, Spelman, Morris Brown and the Interdenominational Theological Center.

West’s new project is a follow up to his 2019 gospel-themed album Jesus is King, which won a Grammy for best contemporary Christian album.

West first announced he would release the album last year on Twitter, alongside colourful cover art and a track list. At the time, his tweets indicated that his project would release on the same day as his rival Taylor Swift’s project Folklore, but West quickly deleted the tweet and the album ended up being postponed.

The two music stars have been in an ongoing beef since West famously interrupted Swift’s speech during the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards when she won for best female video. It appeared both put their differences aside after she introduced him when he won the video vanguard award at the 2015 VMAs, but a leaked video clip between both about his controversial song Famous caused more drama.

It’s not the first time Kanye has hosted a listening event for an upcoming album. In 2016, he debuted his album The Life of Pablo during a massive event and fashion show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Several big names who attended the show included Kardashian West, 50 Cent, Lil Kim, Caitlyn Jenner, A$AP Rocky and 2 Chainz.


Chinese Canadian pop singer Kris Wu defrauded in sexual assault scandal, say police

A man has confessed to defrauding Chinese Canadian pop singer Kris Wu, over a teenager’s accusation he sexually assaulted her when she was drunk, Beijing police said Thursday.

Chinese Canadian pop singer Kris Wu arrives on the red carpet at the iHeartRadio MMVAs in Toronto on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018. On Thursday, Bejing police said a man confessed to defrauding Wu over a teenager’s accusation that he sexually assaulted her. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

A man has confessed to defrauding Chinese Canadian pop singer Kris Wu over a teenager’s accusation he sexually assaulted her when she was drunk, Beijing police said Thursday.

The announcement added a bizarre twist to a scandal that cost Wu — who is 30 and grew up partly in Vancouver — endorsement contracts with brands including Porsche and Bulgari. The former member of Korean boy band EXO has denied the accusation, prompting an outpouring of support for the woman and criticism of Wu online.

A man who saw rumours about the incident online contacted the woman in June and obtained information that allowed him to pretend to be her lawyer, police said in a statement, that did not suggest the woman was accused of taking part in the fraud.

The man talked Wu’s mother into sending the woman 500,000 yuan (about $97,300 Cdn). Then, pretending to be Wu’s lawyer, the man tried to persuade the woman to send the money to him, the police statement said.

It said he tried unsuccessfully to obtain an additional 2.5 million yuan (about $486,500 Cdn) from Wu’s family.

Police arrested the man, who they identified only by the surname Liu, Sunday in Nantong, near Shanghai. The arrest followed a complaint to police from the singer’s mother, who said the family had been defrauded, according to the Beijing Public Security Bureau statement. In the statement, police said he confessed.

The woman had been quoted by the internet portal NetEase as saying Wu encouraged her to drink too much at a party in December and she woke up in his bed. In a statement on his social media account, Wu said he met the woman but denied encouraging her to drink and said other parts of her account didn’t happen.

The woman said other women told her Wu seduced them, sometimes when they were under 18, with promises of jobs and other opportunities. There was no indication any were under China’s age of consent of 14 or that Wu faces accusations of criminal misconduct.

Police are investigating the allegations, the police statement said.

Brands drop Wu

Several brands cut ties with Wu the day after the NetEase report, reflecting their sensitivity to public opinion after the ruling Communist Party stirred up anger at shoe and clothing brands in retaliation for Western reports of human rights abuses in the mostly Muslim region of Xinjiang in the northwest.

Wu, known in Chinese as Wu Yifan, grew up in Guangzhou in southern China and in Vancouver. He performed with EXO from 2012 to 2014, then launched a solo career.

As an actor, he appeared in 2017’s xXx: Return of Xander Cage and two Chinese box office successes, Mr. Six and Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back.


Alanis Obomsawin, Denis Villeneuve to receive TIFF Tribute Awards

Acclaimed filmmakers Alanis Obomsawin and Denis Villeneuve will be honoured at the TIFF Tribute Awards fundraiser during the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

Canadian filmmakers Alanis Obomsawin and Denis Villeneuve will be honoured at the 2021 TIFF Tribute Awards. (The Canadian Press)

Acclaimed filmmakers Alanis Obomsawin and Denis Villeneuve will be honoured at the TIFF Tribute Awards fundraiser during the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

Organizers say Obomsawin will receive the Jeff Skoll Award in Impact Media, which “recognizes leadership in creating a union between social impact and cinema.”

TIFF will also have a retrospective of Obomsawin’s body of work, which the organization says “brings awareness to vital Indigenous issues.”

Quebec-raised Obomsawin is a member of the Abenaki Nation and a prolific Indigenous documentary maker and activist, with more than 50 titles including Incident at Restigouche and Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance.

She has worked at the National Film Board of Canada since 1967 and earned honours including the Glenn Gould Prize and a Companion of the Order of Canada title.

The Quebec-based Villeneuve, whose highly anticipated sci-fi epic Dune will screen at the fest, will get the TIFF Ebert Director Award.

TIFF says the honour “recognizes filmmakers who have exemplified greatness in their career.”

Alanis Obomsawin is an American Canadian Abenaki filmmaker, singer, artist and activist known primarily for her documentary films. She will be honoured with this year’s Jeff Skoll Award in Impact Media. (Scott Gries/Getty Images)

Dune to screen at TIFF as IMAX exclusive

Villeneuve’s work ranges from arthouse fare to big-budget thrillers and sci-fi spectacles including SicarioPrisonersIncendies, Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival, for which he earned an Oscar nomination for directing in 2017.

Dune, co-written and directed by Villeneuve, will screen as a world exclusive IMAX special event at TIFF.

The star-studded big-screen adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel is due in theatres Oct. 22.

The 46th edition of TIFF runs Sept. 9 to 18 with more than 100 films screening digitally and in-person, at venues including TIFF Bell Lightbox and Roy Thomson Hall.

This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows a scene from the upcoming 2021 film Dune. Director Denis Villeneuve will receive this year’s TIFF Ebert Director Award. (Chia Bella James/Warner Bros. Entertainment/The Associated Press)

Awards show will be pre-recorded

This is the third annual Tribute Awards, which will be broadcast nationally by CTV and streamed internationally by Variety.

The star-studded show, which has previously honoured talent including Anthony Hopkins and Kate Winslet, is typically a live event but pivoted to a pre-recorded broadcast last year due to the pandemic.

TIFF co-head and executive director Joana Vicente said in a recent interview this year’s show might have some live elements but will be pre-recorded again.

The show raises funds to support TIFF’s year-round programs.

The organization says this year’s focus is on raising funds for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and “a safe, community-focused and inspiring return to cinemas.”

TIFF says more 2021 honourees will be announced in the coming weeks.


Weinstein pleads not guilty to sexual assault charges in L.A. court

Harvey Weinstein pleaded not guilty in a Los Angeles courtroom Wednesday to four counts of rape and seven other sexual assault counts. 

In this Feb. 24, 2020 file photo, Harvey Weinstein arrives at a Manhattan courthouse for jury deliberations in his rape trial in New York. On Wednesday, Weinstein pleaded not guilty to four counts of rape and seven other sexual assault counts in Los Angeles. (Seth Wenig/The Associated Press)

Harvey Weinstein pleaded not guilty in a Los Angeles courtroom Wednesday to four counts of rape and seven other sexual assault counts. 

Sheriff’s deputies brought the 69-year-old convicted rapist into court in a wheelchair. He was wearing a brown jail jumpsuit and face mask. Lawyer Mark Werksman entered the plea for the disgraced movie mogul a day after Weinstein was extradited to California from New York, where he was serving a 23-year prison term.

Weinstein spoke only to say “thank you” to Judge Sergio Tapia, who wished him good luck as the hearing ended.

He now awaits a second trial on a second coast, and the possibility of another lengthy sentence.

Weinstein’s charges involve five women and span from 2004 to 2013. Most are said to have taken place in the hotels in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles that the New York-based Weinstein would make his headquarters for Hollywood business. Some took place during Oscars week, when his films were perennial contenders before the #MeToo movement brought him down.

He pleaded not guilty to four counts of rape, four counts of forcible oral copulation, two counts of sexual battery by restraint and one count of sexual penetration by use of force, charges that together could bring a sentence of 140 years.

The women were not named in the charging documents.

A New York jury found Weinstein guilty of raping an aspiring actor in 2013 in a Manhattan hotel room and forcibly performing oral sex on a TV and film production assistant in 2006 at his Manhattan apartment.

WATCH | Harvey Weinstein sentenced to 23 years in prison: 

Harvey Weinstein has been sentenced to 23 years in prison following his conviction last month for rape and sexual assault. 1:41

Weinstein is appealing that conviction, seeking a new trial. He maintains his innocence and contends that any sexual activity was consensual.

Los Angeles prosecutors first charged Weinstein in January 2020, just as jury selection was getting underway in the New York City case.

More charges were added later in the year, and in March, he was indicted by an LA County grand jury.

The pandemic and procedural delays meant that Weinstein’s extradition took well over a year. His attorneys cited his declining health as they sought to keep him at a state prison near Buffalo, N.Y., until jury selection began in the Los Angeles trial.

Weinstein’s time in custody in California will count toward his New York sentence, officials said.

Harvey Weinstein attends a hearing from Wende Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison, near Buffalo, N.Y., on June 15. On that day, a New York judge approved Weinstein’s extradition to California, where he is facing additional sexual assault charges. (New York Unified Court System/The Associated Press)

Once a major power in Hollywood along with his brother Bob and their movie companies Miramax and The Weinstein Co., Harvey Weinstein was marked as the archvillain of the #MeToo movement starting late in 2017, when women’s accounts were published in the New York Times and the New Yorker. He was arrested in New York seven months later.

Rumours about Weinstein’s behaviour swirled in film industry circles for decades, but he silenced many accusers with payoffs, nondisclosure agreements and the fear that he could crush their careers.

The Los Angeles charges came from a task force established to tackle sexual misconduct in Hollywood as #MeToo gained momentum.

Weinstein and porn performer Ron Jeremy are among the few charged by the team, which declined to prosecute more than 20 famous men because the allegations against them were too old or could not be corroborated.


Prince William’s Earthshot Prize to publish book on ‘urgency of the environmental challenges facing our world’

Earthshot will be published in Canada on Oct. 5, 2021.

Prince William has announced the Earthshot Prize which will award five prizes a year over the next 10 years for innovation to battle climate change. (Royal Foundation)

Prince William’s environmental prize, the Earthshot Prize, is publishing a book designed to inspire action to protect the environment and combat climate change.

Earthshot is a book by Colin Butfield and Jonnie Hughes, with an introduction by Prince William. (John Murray)

Earthshot “will be the authoritative book of The Earthshot Prize, highlighting the urgency of the environmental challenges facing our world while also providing readers with inspirational case studies of the incredible solutions happening globally to repair our planet,” the book’s publisher, John Murray, said in a press release.

The book is subtitled “how to save our planet” and was written by Colin Butfield and Jonnie Hughes. Buttfield is the executive producer for the Our Planet Project at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) while Hughes is a science writer and filmmaker.

Prince William wrote the introduction.

The prize and the book are focused on five different goals for environmental change: protect and restore nature, clean our air, revive our oceans, build a waste-free world and fix our climate.

The book will also feature contributions from singer and philanthropist Shakira Mebarak, activist Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, astronaut Naoko Yamazaki, and broadcaster and natural historian Sir David Attenborough.

These contributors all act as advisers to the Earthshot Prize.

Earthshot will be published in Canada on Oct. 5, 2021.

In this undated photo provided by Kensington Palace on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, Britain’s Prince William, right and Naturalist Sir David Attenborough react as they disicuss the Earthshot Prize at Kensington Palace, in London. Prince William has launched the most prestigious global environment prize in history to tackle climate issues. (Kensington Palace via AP)

A prize to save the planet

The Earthshot Prize will award five prizes worth $1.7 million Cdn each year for the next 10 years, from 2021 to 2030, under the same categories of protecting and restoring nature, cleaner air, reviving oceans, waste-reduction and climate change.

“The Earth is at a tipping point and we face a stark choice: Either we continue as we are and irreparably damage our plane, or we remember our unique power as human beings and our continual ability to lead, innovate and problem solve,” the Duke of Cambridge said when he announced the prize in 2019.

Introducing The Earthshot Prize, the most prestigious global environment prize in history.

This new global prize for the environment will incentivise change and help to repair our planet over the next ten years – a critical decade for the Earth. pic.twitter.com/biAZecHuml


William has recruited a dozen global celebrities to join the Earthshot Prize Council to decide the winners.

They include Brazilian footballer Alves and Chinese entrepreneur Ma, Queen Rania of Jordan, Australian actor Cate Blanchett, Colombian singer Shakira and former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres.

“By 2030 we really hope to have made huge strides in fixing some of the biggest problems the Earth faces,” William said when announcing the prize.

“I think that urgency with optimism really creates action. And so the Earthshot Prize is really about harnessing that optimism and that urgency to find solutions to some of the world’s greatest environmental problems.”

The prize is supported by several international organizations, including the WWF, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Economic Forum, the National Geographic Society and Greenpeace.

The first prize winners will be announced on Oct. 17, 2021.

More royals publishing books

Earthshot is the second book with a royal connection to be announced this week. On Tuesday, July 20, Prince Harry announced he will be publishing a memoir in late 2022.

The book, which is not yet titled, will be “the definitive account of the experiences, adventures, losses, and life lessons that have helped shape him,” according to the Canadian publisher, Random House Canada.

Harry’s wife, Meghan, also recently became an author. She published her first book, the picture book The Bench, in spring 2021. The book, which was illustrated by American artist Christian Robinson, was a celebration of fathers and sons. It was inspired by Harry’s relationship with the couple’s first child, Archie.

The Bench is the second book Meghan has worked on.

In 2018, she worked on and wrote the foreword to Together, a cookbook compiling recipes from survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire in London. In the aftermath of the fire, several women came together at the Hubb Community Kitchen to share recipes, find community and restore hope. Meghan became involved in the group, and the cookbook serves as a fundraiser for the kitchen.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex work to rebrand themselves after leaving their royal duties behind and starting a new life in Los Angeles. 2:01

With files from Reuters


Kanye’s ‘Donda’ party and Lil Nas X’s ‘Industry Baby’ video kick off New Music Friday

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Kanye West debuted his LP “Donda” in Atlanta to 42,000 people. Other New Music Friday highlights include Lil Nas X, Camila Cabello and Lorde.

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Children are dying in the TikTok ‘Blackout’ challenge. How social media is changing peer pressure.


Family members said a 12-year-old boy from Oklahoma died this week after participating in the TikTok “Blackout Challenge,” the latest in a string of young deaths attributed to the social media challenge where people choke themselves until they become unconscious.

In June, 9-year-old LaTerius “TJ” Smith Jr. from Tennessee was found dead in his bedroom and in April 12-year-old Joshua Haileyesus from Colorado was found dead in his bathroom. Haileyesus was described as “intelligent, funny, caring, and gifted,” on the GoFundMe page set up for his family.

Internet challenges have exploded on social media, ranging from charitable to benign to dangerous to lethal. Some are well-intentioned and lightly amusing, others pose health risks.

In 2014 the Ice Bucket Challenge raised millions of dollars for ALS research. The InMyFeelings dance challenge kept us entertained in the summer of 2018. But the Benadryl challenge, which emerged in 2020, encouraged people to take an excessive amount of the medication in an attempt to hallucinate. The coronavirus challenge encouraged people to lick surfaces in public. The Blackout challenge, which killed Haileyesus, also killed a 10-year-old girl in Italy earlier this year. 

Social media challenges are especially attractive to adolescents, who look to their peers for cues about what’s cool, crave positive reinforcement from their friends and social networks, and are more prone to risk-taking behaviors, particularly when they know they’re being observed by those whose approval they covet. 

Experts: Teens glued to screens in COVID pandemic need sleep and reality checks

“Kids are biologically built to become much more susceptible to peers in adolescence, and social media has magnified those peer influence processes to be much, much more dangerous than they were before,” said Mitchell Prinstein, chief science officer at the American Psychological Association and author of “Popular: Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Cares Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships.”

Teens may find these challenges entertaining and at times thrilling, especially when they don’t see people getting hurt, which increases their likelihood of participating. Teens are already less skilled than adults at weighing risk, and when their peers are lauded – through likes and comments – for engaging in risk-taking behavior, it can be disinhibiting.

A 2016 study in the journal “Psychological Science” found adolescents were more likely to like popular photos than those with few likes, a finding that held true both for neutral photos and those depicting risky behaviors such as drinking and smoking. Viewing photos with many likes was connected to greater activity in parts of the brain associated with imitation.

“These kids are being influenced at a level that’s beyond their conscious awareness,” Prinstein said.

‘A global audience … cajoling 24/7’

A generation ago, kids would leave school or the mall or the movie theater and essentially leave their peers behind for the day. Home was a break from social pressure. But social media means now children’s peers are everywhere all the time.

“Social media is unique in that it provides a public forum with a large audience, immediate access to peers, and quantifiable feedback in the form of likes, views, and comments,” said Jacqueline Nesi, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University who studies how social media impacts adolescents’ mental health. “These create powerful incentives to maximize positive peer feedback and approval.”

Prinstein said there are four mechanisms that drive peer influence:

Overt peer pressure: This is someone saying, “You’d better go do this or else I won’t be your friend.” Before social media, that pressure was usually only present during face to face interactions. Now, Prinstein says, “there’s literally a global audience of people who can provide that type of cajoling 24/7.”

Deviancy training: This is when adolescents get positive reinforcement for doing things that are considered cool, but which can often include breaking the rules or engaging in dangerous behavior.

Misestimation of norms: Teenage brains are constantly trying to get a sense of what’s normal, and whether they fit into the majority. Social media can complicate this, because if there are 20 posts in your newsfeed on the coronavirus challenge, you might think everyone is doing the coronavirus challenge, even if it was really on 20 people who had such poor judgment. 

Identity enhancement: As adults, we are more apt to have a secure sense of self, but in adolescence we manage our identities based on good and bad peer feedback. If a friend on social media participates in a viral challenge and gets hundreds of likes, we see that positive reinforcement and we desire the same. 

Parents must talk with kids about viral trends

Nesi said one of the most important things parents can do when it comes to their teens’ social media use is to keep the lines of communication open. 

“Ask your teen questions, have them show you the accounts they follow, listen to where they are coming from,” she said. “Convey to your teen that they can come to you with questions or to talk if they see something upsetting online.”

Regarding viral challenges specifically, Nesi said first assess your child’s awareness of any of the trends you may have heard about, then ask their opinion of it. You can ask why they think others are following the trend or what they think some of the risks of following that trend may be. Use the opportunity to explain why a certain trend may be concerning to you.

Discussing the risks of social media use with kids is challenging for parents today because they didn’t grow up with these particular pressures. 

“A lot of parents understandably feel a bit helpless, but we have got to push back against that,” Prinstein said. “We have to be dedicating a lot of time and energy to asking the kids, ‘Show me, tell me, explain to me what does that mean? What does it feel like to you when you see that?’ Really, really overcompensate because we don’t have the experience ourselves.”

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