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Making Social Media a Positive Experience for Young Users

Social Media TestDrive offers new ways to learn social media skills.

In this time of social distancing due to COVID-19, children and adults alike are using social media more than ever to stay connected with friends and family. It has become increasingly important for youth to learn about and practice digital citizenship, in order to engage in safe and responsible communication online and think critically about the content that they may encounter. Meanwhile, school closures all across the country have left parents and educators searching for resources that can support at-home learning.

Social Media TestDrive is a free digital remote learning resource that parents and educators can use in the home to teach pre-teens and teens about how to use social media in a positive and responsible way. It is an interactive educational program developed by Cornell University’s Social Media Lab, in collaboration with Common Sense Education. This tool is designed to teach digital citizenship skills and online prosocial behaviors to young people who are new to or not yet engaged with social media.

Cornell Social Media Lab
Screenshot of Social Media TestDrive Activity
Source: Cornell Social Media Lab

Social Media TestDrive provides learners with concrete and hands-on experiences in a realistic social media simulation. It is a perfect at-home digital learning tool because it can be used independently and safely by young people. Learners see examples of prosocial behaviors and practice these behaviors in different Social Media TestDrive modules, each of which is dedicated to a specific set of social media literacy skills.

Each Social Media TestDrive module first introduces young learners to key social media concepts and ideas. For example, the "Ads on Social Media Module" explains and demonstrates what learners need to know about targeted advertisements and sponsored posts in social media. Then, learners practice social media skills in a guided setting through examples and realistic scenarios, such as how to discriminate between sponsored posts and regular posts. After the guided activity, learners have an opportunity to practice these skills independently in a realistic and engaging simulated social media feed. Each module concludes with a reflection activity designed to help learners reflect on what they learned and how they can apply their learning in real life. We also encourage parents and guardians to use the learning experiences in Social Media TestDrive as an opportunity to engage in dialogue with their child about positive social media use. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that families discuss and create a media use plan that balances the different health, education and entertainment media needs of each family member.

Cornell Social Media Lab
Social Media TestDrive Modules
Source: Cornell Social Media Lab

Last summer, we rolled out the first six modules of the Social Media TestDrive curriculum in a nationwide launch (read our previous post to find out more). Since then, it has been accessed and used by more than 43,000 people worldwide. Meanwhile, our team has been hard at work creating new content, and we are excited to share three new modules in the Social Media TestDrive curriculum:

  • Healthy Social Media Habits: If you find yourself checking your social media feed as soon as you wake up, you are likely to have formed a social media habit, whether you are aware of it or not. In this module, students learn and practice healthy media habits to improve their media balance.
  • Ads on Social Media: Have you ever seen advertisements for products and services on social media? In this module, students explore how companies collect user data to display targeted ads on social media and learn how to identify ads and sponsored posts within their feed.
  • Scams and Phishing: Protecting yourself from being scammed on social media is an important skill to learn to keep your private information safe. In this module, students explore the consequences of identity theft and learn how to identify and take action against phishing scams on social media.

For more information about how Social Media TestDrive works, please refer to the Educator Guide, which gives instructions on how educators can implement Social Media TestDrive modules in a variety of settings. You can also watch our recent webinar, Practicing Digital Citizenship: A Social Media Test Drive, to learn more about how Social Media TestDrive can help parents and educators prepare young people for entering the online world. Each Social Media TestDrive module is also linked as an extension activity to the corresponding lesson in Common Sense Education’s Digital Citizenship Curriculum and can be used together. You can also learn more about the research that has informed the development of the Social Media TestDrive platform in our paper.

Cornell Social Media Lab
Social Media TestDrive Logo
Source: Cornell Social Media Lab

Interested in staying in the loop? You can join our e-mail listserv by e-mailing with the subject line "Join" (leave the body blank) to keep up with the latest news about Social Media TestDrive.

This post was co-authored by Dr. Yoon Hyung Choi and Dr. Natalie Bazarova.

A special thank you to our team members, Dr. Janis Whitlock, Dr. Dan Cosley, Dr. Dominic DiFranzo, Amanda Purington, Anna Spring, and Ashley Shea; our undergraduate research assistants, Tianke Zhao, Cathy Xie, and Michael Huang; and our collaborators at Common Sense Education, Kelly Mendoza, Eisha Buch, and Daniel Vargas Campos.


DiFranzo, D., Choi, Y. H., Purington, A., Taft, J. G., Whitlock, J. & Bazarova, N. N. (2019). Social Media TestDrive: Real world social media education for the next generation. Proceedings of The ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Glasgow, UK.

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