Last updated on November 19, 2020
Since March, social media has become a huge influence on teenagers’ political involvement and civic engagement. Social media provides widespread, easy to access news sources which educate teens on politics, social justice, and the upcoming election. Apps like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. can be a useful tool to access information and news about the world, but that doesn’t mean that they are entirely positive. Using social media as your main news source may give biased or misleading information. Reposting false news stories on popular media such as Instagram can be harmful because they give readers a warped sense of the world and what needs to be done politically.
In a recent survey sent to Northwest School students grades 6-12, almost 30% of 41 respondents use some form of social media as their main news source. Additionally, 78% of students reported that the rapid rise of information on social media over the summer has impacted their political involvement. Although this is a good thing, as more teenagers have been involved in politics and activism, it can be harmful if dishonest information is spread. It is necessary for us to recognize that getting involved politically is much more than just a “trend” circulating on social media. As human beings, we have a responsibility to get involved and fact checks all of our resources before posting information publicly. It is amazing that the rise of news on social media has allowed people to get involved, but involvement should not end with a share or a repost. Posting information online once a week does not give an excuse to stop caring when we aren’t behind a screen.
Performative activism has also been a very prevalent issue during the quarantine. Performative activism is when someone engages in activism to increase their “social capital” rather than because they care about the cause. One example of performative activism would be sharing an informational post about racism and then participating in cultural appropriation. With the rise of information and resources regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, white teenagers often try to create a “woke” image of themselves online. This becomes dangerous when that same activism is not translated into offline involvement. Political activism is not about becoming immersed in movements when they are popular in order to fit in. It is about appreciating the lives of others and genuinely caring about our world. Social media has allowed for more performativity to go unnoticed, as it has become so common.
When Northwest students were asked about how social media impacted their political involvement, there was no general consensus. Many people believe that social media can spread fake news, push political ideas onto young people, and does not make a huge difference offline. However, many students also reported that social media is a community-based source, spreads information quickly to a wide audience, and allows for healthy debate from people of differing perspectives.
When it comes to this issue, there is not a right or wrong answer. Activism does not end with a hashtag or alike, and social media is inherently performative to some extent. We must remember to use the information we learn on Instagram and Twitter and apply it to our daily lives. Things like campaigning, signing petitions, and writing letters to our government officials can make a genuine difference politically. Social media can be a wonderful tool and a great place to start, but it can also be misleading and harmful.