Gen Z may look similar to every generation of young people before them: stubborn, idealistic, and determined. Upon further inspection, however, we see 12 year olds fighting for clean water, 16 year olds starting global climate movements, and 15 year old girls willing to take a bullet from the Taliban to fight for education. Gen Z is not a passive generation, watching the world go by. It is a generation of activists, fighting against civil rights violations and environmental crises.
These Gen Z activists–– Amariyanna Copeny (Little Miss Flint), Greta Thunberg, and Malala Yousafzai–– couldn’t have achieved such greatness without the help of the increasing influence of technology in modern society. While many older generations critique the frivolousness of it, the spread of social media has become not only a space to share photos and connect with friends, but also one to rally people against growing injustices around the world. Movements such as March for Our Lives and Fridays for Future owe much of their success to the digital age we live in—it’s allowed people from around the country and the world to learn about these movements and join them.
The use of technology to share information isn’t new—technology has long been a method for spreading news and awareness. On September 11, 2001, when two planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York, people across the country knew about it due to television broadcasting. Recently the flow of information has been amplified by the spread of social media connecting young activists from around the country, helping movements generate a strong base of support.
One of the most prevalent ways young activists are spreading awareness and generating support for their causes is by creating social media accounts discussing their cause, which other social media users and view and share. One prime example is March for Our Lives, a student-run movement created in opposition to gun violence in the United States one month after a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people. March for Our Lives’ Instagram account has amassed a social media following of over 350,000 people by projecting a simple, yet powerful statement: “We have a right to not be shot.”
Another notable example is Greta Thunberg, 16 year old climate activist who has generated a global climate movement by skipping school every Friday to sit outside Swedish Parliament with the sign “Skolstrejk för Klimatet” (School Strike for Climate). Pictures of her spread across social media and online news outlets have led to millions of people across the world to take action by engaging in their own school strikes. The strikes have gained recognition from news outlets, politicians, and other students who have become organizers in their own cities.
However, despite many young activists making headlines by using technology to advocate for their movements, accessibility to technology, especially in developing nations, has been a huge barrier for other movements.
In China, the government’s strict censorship regulations on publishing content has been an incredible barrier to many people in developed countries learning about atrocities being committed. The Chinese government has taken millions of Uighur Muslims and forced them into “re-education” camps. The latest horror is the harvesting of organs from Muslims, which is an international human rights violation. The inability of people within China who are witnessing these attacks to spread the word to those outside of the country has been incredibly detrimental to the movement and has stunted its progress.
In other instances, people in developing countries simply cannot afford access to technology. Most people in developing countries, around 56 percent of the world’s population, do not have access to the internet, making the creation of a movement to improve their conditions much more difficult. Affordability issues are not unique to developing countries, however. As of 2017, ¼ of American households lack access to the internet. This creates an unequal distribution of resources, which can be particularly harmful to those who need social movements the most. Due to pervasive racism and discrimination, people of color tend to suffer from worse socio-economic conditions than their white counterparts and thus have less access to the resources they need (like a stable internet connection) to participate in online activism. With their voices lacking at the frontlines, movements often cannot generate the results needed to benefit those communities.
However, in spite of accessibility inequality, the impact of technology on twenty first century activism is clear and constantly growing. It isn’t only about greater recognition; activists are getting engaged at a younger age than their counterparts from other generations and creating a wave of young people who are becoming increasingly politically aware.
Before our eyes, we watch as a world of young people organize online for a variety of issues and campaigns to achieve visibility and change. Joining and spreading awareness about these movements could change the course of our future.