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Google wants Gen Z ‘better internet’

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A few weeks ago, Google revealed that 40% of 18- to 24-year-olds prefer TikTok or Instagram searching to cheerful, Boomer-esque Googling. Since then, the internet giant has come back militantly by launching an educational campaign targeting Gen Z.

Dubbed “Let’s Internet Better,” the crusade features a series of animated short videos targeting misinformation, scammers, and online catfishing. The campaign logo is positioned as a call to action to help people become “smarter internet users” by using Google Search for fact checking. The campaign logo features a rainbow color scheme and a shooting mouse pointer – a riff on ‘The More You Know’ from the 80s television PSAs.

The 15-second videos have ironic titles, such as “Did someone just buy the sun?” and “Should you put slugs on your face?”

With over 90% of the global market share of search engines, Google Search is in no way at risk of obsolescence, although the churn of a younger audience and product searches on social media platforms and Amazon.com can be worrisome early signs of changing consumer behavior.

Google says the campaign was designed with the intention of resonating with “Gen Z’s tone, humor and aesthetic” to be a “fun, yet confident PSA that is supportive and informative.”

“With this campaign, we wanted to speak directly to Gen Z, digital natives who define much of today’s Internet culture,” said Rebecca Michael, senior director of marketing, Google Search. “By working with them to think critically about the information they encounter online and arming them with the tools and resources to verify the facts and ensure credibility, we hope they will set the pace for others and will help us make the internet a safer, better place.”

As part of the initiative, Google has partnered with some of the top TikTok makers, including Hank Green, Matt Taylor, Antonio Baldwinand Alexia Del Valle—to publish content about internet safety and fact-checking. There are also videos that offer back-to-basics lessons in topics such as reverse image search.

Reasonable. But with reports and FTC data showing that it is mainly older age groups that are increasingly becoming victims of online fraud – at the pace of $3 billion last year in the United States alone – it’s curious that the search giant has invested in an internet literacy campaign targeting Gen Z, a digitally native “hypercognitive generation” researchers describe as: “very comfortable with collecting and cross-referencing many sources of information.”

“Google is the standard for millennials, Generation X and baby boomers, just as Sears used to be the standard for shopping,” said Flynn Zaiger, CEO of digital marketing and design firm Online Optimism. “Older and digital brands constantly underestimate the diversity of Gen Z and their ability to think critically.”

In addition to social media apps and Amazon.com, many websites and platforms, such as Reddit and LinkedIn, have doubled in recent years in scaling user-generated content and improve search. And while the long-term sociological effects of limiting searches to within the parameters of niche Internet communities are not yet known, a strong case can be made in support of theories pointing to increased political and social polarization–of The network status by Balaji Srinivasan, a best-selling new release that describes how to start a new country, and gives a dystopian warning about where we might be headed.

Still, if nothing else, the campaign highlights the extent to which understanding the habits and mindsets of Gen Z users has become a key goal for brain confidence behind Google Search. As Prabhakar Raghavan, the company’s senior vice president of knowledge and information, explained at a business conference in Aspen, “We continue to learn time and again that new internet users do not have the expectations and mindset that we have become accustomed to. The questions they ask are completely different.”

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