The summer of 2020 was a revolutionary time, in terms of activism and public support for social change. During a global pandemic, the shocking and tragic deaths of Black Americans such as George Floyd and Breanna Taylor by the hands of the police changed the trajectory of activism forever, especially among the youngest generation.
Everywhere you looked, every time you logged on, all one would see are Instagram posts, tweets and retweets, and timelines concerning the events which had transpired. It seemed like the whole world turned into activists overnight. People stopped posting selfies, pictures of their dog, vacation photos. All one would see is the problems in the nation and worldwide, under the guise of “raising awareness.”
However, how many people were genuinely concerned with the conditions of society and how many people were blindly following the herd? Under strict scrutiny and judgement from their peers, all they could do is post these infographics and pictures relating to social issues.
If you didn’t post, your friends and classmates would label you as “ignorant” or even “conservative.” If you posted shots from your own life, you were “insincere” and “disrespectful.”
This resulted in people, in a way, being forced to post and express their concern and feelings towards the issue, even if it was not genuine. While the idea that everyone posting and raising awareness about issues sounds ideal, is inauthenticity a problem in Gen Z activism? Can peer pressure actually achieve something greater? Or is it simply guilt and indifference which essentially amounts to nothing?
Gen Z Activism
While being a part of the somewhat older part of Gen Z consisting of college students, I did not have much of a grasp of what the younger students thought about this. After asking my 16-year-old sister, I realized that this portion of Gen Z has it just as hard. She and her friends are still very active on social media and try to promote social issues and problems through as many posts and retweets as possible.
When asked if she felt as if she was being pressured, she quickly rejected the prose. She said, “I actually care about these issues, and I think social media becoming a safe space to shed light on social problems is beneficial to all parties.”
However, she does recognize the herd-like trend which has become increasingly popular. People she has never seen speak up on social issues, and even those who have actively held and voiced their conservative and problematic opinions, are now posting liberal think pieces to their social media accounts. This, she says, is a problem.
The new wave of social media allows anyone to appear someway online, as caring and passionate but does not require the actual action and effort needed to be this person in real life. She and her generation do believe in the concept of performative activism and the dangers it has on real-life activism.
Since the time of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, we have seen multiple other movements and issues which have taken the internet by storm. For example, #StopAsianHate and #FreePalestine are just a few of the social movements which have “trended” recently.
It seems as though the internet finds a new issue to focus their energy on every couple of weeks – leading to a constant cycle of staying informed and following the herd to post as much as possible for each cause. Some may argue, however, that this is not true activism. It can be said the rotation of hashtags and infographics results in a sense of conformity and performative Gen Z activism.
People are not doing the research and properly educating themselves about each issue, but getting a quick synopsis from an Instagram infographic and relaying the information to their followers.
And again, with each issue, peers expect their friends and peers to follow suit and participate in raising awareness for each cause. But is this enough? This form of “activism” requires two clicks in order to achieve the title of activist, but it leaves out the part of grassroots and community organization, attending protests, donating to organizations and people, and enacting change through policy and laws. Gen Z are extremely committed to social causes, a survey finds, but the question is if this commitment is authentic. If it is, they would be more vocal and active outside their social media bubble, but this is not the case.
If one concludes that Gen Z activism is a byproduct of peer pressure from their classmates, friends, and other internet users, it can also be concluded that this activism can amount to very little. Simply posting a photo or video related to an issue is ultimately not enough to combat the social problems or enact change within society surrounding the subject. The peer pressure Gen Z is facing is a useless one, which promotes performative participation and the overall notion of being perceived as “educated” rather than going to the necessary lengths to achieve this title and help society.
The new wave of Gen Z activism is heavily influenced by peer pressure and how one wishes to be perceived by their friends and classmates. While the overall notion of raising awareness towards issues and becoming educated through social media is not a detrimental phenomenon, the authenticity and action taken to reciprocate this passion where this generation is lacking.
Instead of promoting the idea of social media activism, we must also encourage and expect young people to get involved in the community and local organizations in order to create the change they so actively wish for.
Read also: The Life Cycle Of A Youth Activist