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It’s hard to ignore the huge influence social media has on our society. There’s reasonable concern with how much our kids are engaged on their screens, that use of social media is ego-inflating and of little value. But this concern may be overgeneralizing. Younger generations have found ways to use social media for good, some gathering followers by the thousands. One of these beneficial ways is gathering support for social change.

Twitter is shaping up to be a platform worth something beyond memes and humorous one-liners. It’s proving capable of being a reliable source that many young people look to for news about current events. “74% of Twitter users say they use the network to get their news.”[1] Twitter offers the unique ability for protestors to organize together with a speed, efficiency, and reach that has previously been unheard of. Localized protest becomes national overnight; global protest is accessible to all.

Parkland Florida Students Viralize Their Cause

The students who survived the Parkland, Florida school shooting were left grieving, confused, and angry. Their hearts were broken, wanting justice for their friends and other kids like them. As a result, they organized the “March for our Lives” protest in Washington that attracted 108,000 protesters to their cause.[2] Not only did a genius use of social media attract live protestors, but by March 2018, two of the Parkland survivors had a total of over 1.5 million social media followers.[3]

They made their opinions known to a vast like-minded audience who wanted to see gun laws reformed. Not only did they draw thousands to their cause, they also had impact on legislation. A bill was passed in Florida which limits the sale or ownership of guns for a year to anyone determined to be a threat.[4]

Twitter Becomes a Platform for Social Movements

Traditionally, people have assumed that social media platforms like Twitter only talk of trivial topics. Current and critical social issues are taking form, turning Twitter into a powerful platform for social justice. And it’s not a mistake that this is happening. A 2015 study published in the InternationalJournal of Consumer Studies looked at the link between social media and its ability to make people feel connected. This study compared desire to be involved in a particular social movement formed through social media with how often the desire resulted in social movement participation. They concluded that social media users are more inclined to follow through with social movement aspirations if they are both avid users and feel socially involved within a group.[5]

Climate as the Next Frontier

An annual survey by the World Economic Forum shows millennials ranked climate change as the number one world issue for the third year in a row.[6] Gen Z kids are equally as likely to see climate change as the most pressing global issue currently.[7] Like the gun reform protests of this last year, students are again staging mass protests to fight against leaders of government –this time on a global scale. For instance, the rapidly-building March 15 2019 “School Strike 4 Climate” movement resulted in a massive protest, with 1.4 million young young people from twelve countries banding together to skip school.[8] These kids were seeking global government attention to reduce carbon emissions.

There is an urgency to climate change protests inspiring kids all over the world to act. Hitting headlines globally is a young girl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg. She has a Twitter account with 540,600 followers, which she uses to mobilize her cause.[9] Greta reported that she became impassioned with the global threat of climate change at only 8 years old. On April 23, 2019, she spoke in front of parliament in the UK at only 16 years old.[10] Greta is the face of generation Z’s climate change protest representing an entire generation demanding change, and they’re using social media to do it.

Interested in how to get your kids mobilized to do good? Check out these organizations:

  • People’s Climate Movement
  • NextGen America
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • World Wildlife Federation

Teaching your kids about how their digital footprint can make a difference is a valuable first step in ensuring they maintain positive online identities. Thank you to GKIS intern, Chelsea Letham for helping research social media’s movements for change. Want to encourage your kids to cultivate a positive digital footprint? Check out our GKIS article, The Social Media Teen Résumé. How to Expertly Stylize Your Cyber Footprint to Attract College and Employment Opportunities.

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

Works Cited

[1] https://www.omnicoreagency.com/twitter-statistics/

[2] Shear, M.D. (2018, March 24). Students lead huge rallies for gun control across the U.S. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/24/us/politics/students-lead-huge-rallies-for-gun-control-across-the-us.html?module=inline

[3] Bromwich, J.E. (2018, March 7). How the Parkland students got so good at social media. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/07/us/parkland-students-social-media.html?module=inline

[4] Kramer, M. & Harlan, J. (2019, February 13). Parkland shooting: where gun control and school safety stand today. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/13/us/parkland-shooting.html

[5] Hwang, H., & Kim, K. (2015). Social media as a tool for social movements: The effect of social media use and social capital on intention to participate in social movements. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 39(5), 478-488. doi: 10.1111/ijcs.12221

[6] Loudenback, T. & Jackson, A. (2018, February 26). The 10 most critical problems in the world, according to millennials. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/world-economic-forum-world-biggest-problems-concerning-millennials-2016-8

[7] Parker, K., Graf, N., & Igielnik, R. (2019, January 17). Generation Z looks a lot like millennials on key social and political issues. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/01/17/generation-z-looks-a-lot-like-millennials-on-key-social-and-political-issues/

[8] Kaplan, S. (2019, February 16). How a 7thgrader’s strike against climate change exploded into a movement. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/how-a-7th-graders-strike-against-climate-change-exploded-into-a-movement/2019/02/15/e20868e2-2fb4-11e9-86ab-5d02109aeb01_story.html?utm_term=.a97cad4efa4d

[9] https://mobile.twitter.com/GretaThunberg

[10] (2019, April 23). Greta Thunberg: Teen activist says UK is ‘irresponsible’ on climate. BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48017083

Photo Credits

Photo by Donn Strain on Unsplash

Photo by Natalie Chaney on Unsplash

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

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