The March for Our Lives, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter are only a few examples of the many political movements that have been powered by this generation. Social media, though often labeled as a purely negative influence, is in fact a driving force in stimulating such political activism among youth.
By making news more readily accessible, social media brings issues into the public eye that would otherwise be overlooked. As such, important political issues facing this generation are getting the attention they deserve.
“[Social media] has made me more passionate because I can get more information more often,” said Maya Groves ‘20. “The more I learn, the more frustrated I get, which makes me want to actually do something about the problems I see.”
Modern technology and the ease of sharing information instantaneously has heightened this generation’s ability to rally behind a cause. For instance, Black Lives Matter has been successful largely due to the sharing of videos of instances of police brutality, and families of victims have been able to use social media as an organizational tool to promote activism and awareness.
Student activism is an incredibly important facet of a healthy political climate, as students are the future of the country. In fact, according to a survey of 92 WHS students, approximately 84% of those eligible are already registered or preregistered to vote. Of those 92 students, 92% use social media as a news source and 78% generally keep track of politics.
“We use social media all the time… and the awareness that comes from seeing the popularity of [social and political movements online] can inspire people to take direct action,” explained Katelin Zhou ‘19. “Not only is student activism a phenomenal way to become a more well-rounded student, but it also fuels the very essence of what this country was founded on. Democracy is better when we all have a voice.”
The presence of online news has become almost unavoidable, and many rightfully argue that this has its drawbacks. With the rise of news scandals on various social media platforms, most notably Facebook, the dangers of this kind of widespread accessibility are apparent as well. In the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, more than one quarter of voting-age adults visited a fake news website supporting either Clinton or Trump according to estimates from “Selective Exposure to Misinformation,” a study by researchers from Princeton, Dartmouth, and the University of Exeter.
This, however, is an issue caused by poor execution and lack of regulation, and is not inherent to social media as a whole. The good done by the internet with regards to modern news should not be overshadowed. Even at WHS, students overwhelmingly agree that the diversity in news provided by social media is invaluable.
“It allows you to see different perspectives of an issue, so you’re able to increase your knowledge about not only world issues, but also your peers,” said Matty Schwartz ‘21.
The multitude of online news sources shared on social media can also lead to the formation of more informed opinions.
“There are so many varying opinions and thought processes that you’re exposed to on social media that make you think in a different way than you otherwise would,” said Groves.
Rather than shun social media as a time-waster or a political agitator, it is time that society recognizes it as the beneficial political tool it can be. More informed, active voters are needed to change the current hyper-partisan climate, and social media is an important step towards closing the divide. Though it can obviously do harm, social media’s benefit to American political discourse is a signal of hope for the next generation of political leaders.