Signal intern Anna Connelly discusses how the next generation of activists are using new tools, tech, and strategy to create actionable change.
Performative Activism & Peer Accountability
When it comes to discussing current affairs, a generational desire to appear in-the-know has created significant barriers for Gen Z activists who have something productive to say. Although simple clicks for likes, tags, and reposts can help to spread awareness, they aren’t enough to create real-world results on their own.
Many Gen Z-ers have actually taken it upon themselves to hold their peers accountable when they see posts that they feel are performative. For example, after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, many Gen Z users publicly shamed their peers for behaving in ways that inherently harmed the Black Lives Matter movement—which their peers claimed to support.
Though problematic at times, these well-intended confrontations have contributed to a stronger, action-oriented layer in the Gen Z digital consciousness.
Cross-Generational Advocacy and Education
Gen Z often gets a bad rap for being overly materialistic, impatient, and performative. While scrolling past their sometimes overly edited selfies, it’s not difficult to conclude that there isn’t always depth to the content they share online. However, Gen Z deserves more credit—especially in the realm of online activism.
In fact, this tech-savvy generation has put their social media expertise to good use, producing and packaging their own research to encourage followers of all ages to transform intention into action.
Gen Z users have applied their self-taught video editing, graphic design, and fluency in viral media to create campaigns of their own for important social initiatives. While some users prefer to sprinkle casual posts about larger issues into their feeds, others have completely remodeled their accounts to serve as an information and resource hub for their followers.
For example, “Dear Asian Youth” is an Instagram account run by over 100 Asian youths dedicated to replacing problematic perceptions of Asian culture with comprehensive research that is representative of authentic Asian experiences. This account provides commentary on topics like the model minority myth and cultural appropriation, but applies them to mainstream culture and current events to spark meaningful conversations. These conversations are especially valuable given the anti-Asian rhetoric associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other Gen Z Instagram users prefer to inspire action as an individual cognizant of a larger movement. Most recently, the #EndSARS movement regarding the genocide in Nigeria has been a major project for Gen Z activists. In recent days, Gen Z individuals have circulated social media toolkits that promote concrete steps to support the anti-police brutality movement, including message templates to send to representatives, credible places to send monetary support, mutual aid funds, and other volunteer opportunities to keep the movement visible in the public eye.
No matter which initiative Gen Z activists dedicate themselves to, it is truly amazing to witness the passion that fuels their efforts to enact long lasting change in modern society. Regardless of the number of followers an account has, the activist spirit continues to thrive on social media as Gen Z encourages followers to move to the polls, march in the streets, shop responsibly, and communicate with cultural competency.
Considering that the oldest members of this generation are only in their early twenties, other generations should consider awarding more credit to Gen Z. This is a generation that recognizes the existence of larger societal issues that extend beyond their own personal experiences, yet they are also prepared to use their own social influences to produce greater good.