The internet’s effect on teenage activism

Twitter teen activism

(Photo illustration by Matías Heitner)

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Gen Z has tools that past activists never had. The age of the internet emboldens teenagers profoundly, allowing us to spread our messages more quickly and extensively than previously was possible. Never before was one able, with the click of a button, to post a message that within seconds could be globally viewed and shared.

The internet is a double-sided tool in that it helps both to spread one’s message and to learn another’s. The resulting effect is that people can learn about a movement and then act on it. Hence why many teenagers who use social media feel that they can make a change. 

A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Washington Post shows that teenagers are less likely to feel helpless about the climate crisis than any other generation, and are one of the most likely to feel optimistic and motivated. In addition, around a quarter of the polled teenagers said they had participated in some form of climate activism. 

I reached out to around 30 high schoolers from all around the country to see whether I would find similar results. In some places, the outcome was as expected, and in others, quite surprising.

When asked what they believed is the most important issue we face today, nearly 40% answered either climate change or a climate-related problem. These answers were not surprising to me, as the coronavirus and racial/social justice issues are topics of extreme importance right now. While climate change was the primary answer, many people explained that they find these other issues equally important in the current world. 

Notably, Linnea Warren, a respondent from Syracuse, said, “It’s difficult to choose just one. We have climate change, police brutality and racism, ICE holding children in cages, Yemen going through a crisis, and the slave trade in Libya. There are so many issues in the world that need to be changed, and almost all of these affect everyone.”

On a scale of zero to 100, the importance of fighting climate change scored an average of 84, and only one person gave a rating below 50. 

Additionally, 68% said they had taken or were taking action to fight climate change, and 100% said that if there were simple actions they could take to fight climate change, they would do so. This surprised me because, while I had expected a significant commitment to environmental activism, I had not anticipated that the median number would be so high.

These specific results demonstrated that our generation is ultra awake to the fact that climate change is a serious problem worth fighting against. I continued the survey, asking questions geared more toward understanding where they were getting their information from, and whether social media is a large factor in their understanding of these issues.

When presented with a question about how social media informed their view on climate change, only 7% of the teenagers answered “Not at all.” Furthermore, 57% responded that they source their news from social media, be it all of their information or just a small amount.

These answers help paint a picture of just how impactful social media is in young activism right now. In the same poll where every single person answered that they would, if presented with the option, take action to fight climate change, a large majority finds some amount of their information on social media. 

Sasha James, a rising junior from Maryland stated: “Climate Change is the most looming issue by far and most people are either unaware of the gravity of the problem or are denying its existence because they think it is ‘years/decades away’ or because they are too scared to accept the truth and face it head on.”

Gen Z knows what is happening, and we understand that we must mobilize, as it baldly threatens our future. Don’t worry, this generation is not wasting its time on the internet — we’re using it to change the world.

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Activism, high school, internet, Student activism, youth climate movement

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