KidSpirit

Youth in Activism

Strength and InfluenceFeatures

Globalization is a term defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as: “the development of an increasingly integrated global economy marked especially by free trade, free flow of capital, and the tapping of cheaper foreign labor markets.”

While this definition only cites the economic side of globalization, we can describe our world today as globalized in the sense that we have become closer, as a species.

With that increasing globality, we’ve been taking it more and more for granted. For instance, my generation has grown up, for the most part, with instant communication at our fingertips. Anyone with a cell phone and a SIM card is able to reach just about anyone else in the world, which is around five billion people. Many people are starting to use phones more for social media activism, but it is proving, in many cases, to be less effective than the previously more common “physical activism,” which includes protests. It is also simultaneously proving to work in different instances. Personally, I feel as though I see more instances where people think that they are helping a cause a lot when in reality they have been tricked into thinking they have, or they take great pride in helping when in reality they just reposted something on their Instagram story. However, it could also entirely be the case that I notice these instances more than I notice when someone does successfully use social media activism in a helpful way.

With seamless, wireless connection has come multiple other apps that are capable of reaching millions of people without directly speaking to them. Using Twitter, you can make a tweet that anybody can see, like a global announcement. Social media apps such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have started to become extremely popular worldwide, and they’ve implemented features such as hashtags to make it easier to search for a certain topic within the app. This has given way to a lot of activism, as the ability to reach millions of people with a message is an incredible way to organize and fuel a movement. As we have seen in past years, with social media apps you can gather everyone to protest for a cause, without having to go door to door, and without having to spread the word through physical interaction. Protests organized via social media are able to reach so many more people, and while in some cases they have been shut down, social media still proves to be a valuable way to organize marches and movements.

A pioneer in the United States of using social media to create a movement, the #blacklivesmatter movement is a perfect example of using social media to effectively organize. Creating the hashtag made it more discoverable (via the trending hashtags bar on Twitter), easier to associate with, and easier to organize with. The apps have also made movements safer. As described by Wired, in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, there wasn’t a way to make your voice heard without physically protesting and marching. However, with Black Lives Matter, a message can spread virtually and physically.

Since the new age of digital movements and “protests,” numerous other movements (especially ones using hashtags, such as #MeToo) have started, and they are becoming increasingly common. In particular, youth-led social movements have started to make more and more appearances. If luck is on your side, a single Instagram post could go viral and, at least for a short period of time, you could rally thousands of people with a movement. One such example is the March for Our Lives movement, created by survivors of the Parkland shooting who wanted to see and create change regarding gun control in America. Using social media to organize, they were largely successful, with at least 1.2 million people showing up to protests around the country. The success can largely be attributed to social media organizing; as the teens in charge of the movement had grown up with social media, they knew how to use it to their advantage in creating a movement.

Using March for Our Lives as an example, it seems safe to say at this point that teens using social media for activism has had an apparent impact on the world. 1.2 million is a large number of people, and the movement has likely touched many more. Not to mention, there are countless other movements made by young people on social media. Social media is helping teens have an impact, as there are ways to create mass gatherings much more easily.

Another place where social media activism has worked was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It worked because it was easy to spread, with a nomination system, and the challenge itself was simple. Someone just had to pour an ice bucket on their head, and if they didn’t do it within 24 hours of being nominated, they themselves had to donate money to the cause. This spread awareness and raised money, all using social media. While this was partially specific to the cause, it proved that helping a movement on social media can be done better if, instead of organizing protests, a simple challenge or incentive for people to donate can work.

Even while some campaigns may not change many laws, or actually create change immediately, they certainly have an impact. Campaigns, especially the ones that utilize hashtags, can become known, and the issues become known with them. Anyone in touch with society over the past few years in the U.S. would probably be able to tell you what #BLM or #MeToo is, which is important for the longevity of a movement. Whether or not they have accomplished more tangible things in the past few years (which these specific movements have), strong social media movements can lay the groundwork for long-term movements, making them a beneficial thing to do.

However, social media activism can also come with tricks, or fake movements. People who perhaps want to help or believe that they are helping a cause will do the bare minimum to support an organization, even when the organization doesn’t exist. There have been countless instances in the past year alone where I’ve seen obviously fake organization accounts reposted and shared everywhere, promising that each like or post gets a tree planted. These accounts take over the app, taking advantage of people’s desire to feel as though they are making a difference.

Through my own research on Instagram, one such account that abused the Australia bushfires was Plantatreeco. The account now has many different posts, but the post that went viral, gaining a large number of likes and giving the account a lot of followers, was simply a picture of a wildfire with the caption “Repost to donate to Australia.” The post claimed that for every 100 people to follow the account and share the post on their story, one dollar would be donated to the New South Wales firefighting effort. Later providing an obviously photoshopped receipt of a “donation,” the account that had gained 454,000 followers stopped posting about fires, and switched to posting cute animal videos. What appears to have happened is not a unique story, where an account takes advantage of a current movement gaining press attention, gains followers, and then tries to blend in as a normal account posting cute animal videos, but with hundreds of thousands more followers than they would have had if they hadn’t tricked everyone who wanted to feel as though they helped fight a wildfire by following the account.

There are also people trying to stop these accounts from having such a strong presence, such as @exposinginstascams. These are accounts made to recognize accounts trying to gain followers based on a cause and point them out to everyone. There are also other very simple ways to check, such as looking at whether or not the account has a business email linked, or has any past posts prior to the current issue everyone is worrying about. Without any previous posts, it is apparent that they made the account for the sole purpose of tricking people into following them, believing they are helping a cause.

In short, teen activism has been on the rise, particularly because we are able to use social media and our wireless connections to reach so many people. We can create movements and participate in them from our phones, but we can also be tricked into thinking that we’re helping a movement from our phones. With so many movements popping up constantly, it’s hard to know which are real, but the real ones that do go viral are surely making a difference and becoming movements larger than an Instagram post.

Sources:

Barnett, Katherine, et al. “The Impact of Social Media on Modern Protest Movements & Democracy.” The Sociable, 30 Sept. 2019, sociable.co/social-media/impact-social-media-modern-protest-movements-democracy/.

“Globalization.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/globalization.

Lopez. “It's Official: March for Our Lives Was One of the Biggest Youth Protests since the Vietnam War.” Vox, 26 Mar. 2018, www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/3/26/17160646/march-for-our-lives-crowd-size-count.

“Mission & Story.” March For Our Lives, 29 Apr. 2020, marchforourlives.com/mission-story/.

Sawers, Paul. “5 Billion People Now Have a Mobile Phone Connection, According to GSMA Data.” VentureBeat, VentureBeat, 4 Dec. 2019, venturebeat.com/2017/06/13/5-billion-people-now-have-a-mobile-phone-connection-according-to-gsma-data/.

“Social Media as Activism and Social Justice.” Maryville Online, 26 Nov. 2019, online.maryville.edu/blog/a-guide-to-social-media-activism/.

Stephen, Bijan. “How Black Lives Matter Uses Social Media to Fight the Power.” Wired, Conde Nast, 1 May 2017, https://www.wired.com/2015/10/how-black-lives-matter-uses-social-media-to-fight-the-power/.

Mac Fabens lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is in the 11th grade. He enjoys walking his dogs, canoeing, and being able to learn new life skills every day.

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