Conversations to have with teens about online activism

Online or digital activism, particularly via social media, can be a great way to educate people about social issues and to raise awareness. Internet Matters experts share their insights on the topic.

Online campaign image

Karl Hopwood

Independent online safety expert
Expert Website

How has social media has become an integral part of online activism among young people?
As the numbers of young people using social media continue to rise it is becoming clear that these platforms are giving them a voice. Constantly connected and always with a camera in their pocket, they are able to lend their support to worthy causes as well as highlight any injustice or ill-treatment, often in quite creative ways. Gina Martin managed to change the law around upskirting and talked about how a single conversation online has the power to activate thousands and trigger a shift in attitudes offline. #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo are other examples of using social media to generate a global discussion on key issues.

My teen donated/supported a campaign she saw online which turned out to be fake, what should I do?

It can be difficult to know whether an online campaign is genuine or not. GoFundMe claims that less than one-tenth of 1% of all campaigns are fraudulent but there are always going to be situations where we find that we’ve been duped. If this happens it is important to report it to the police or to Action Fraud. Don’t beat yourself up too much, it’s not always easy to spot a fake campaign but there are some things to look out for…very often a scam will try and make you feel horrified by what you see – they will show you a hard-hitting image or video designed to make you feel that you must get involved and donate. They might tell you that there is almost enough money to reach their goal and that your contribution will make that vital difference. Donating through more reputable sites who provide a guarantee to the donor is a sensible approach.

Sajda Mughal OBE

CEO of JAN Trust, Campaigner and Consultant
Expert Website

How has social media has become an integral part of online activism among young people?

Social media has become an extremely popular medium for online activism, in particular among young people. As they have grown up with social media, it is already easily accessible, and an integral part of their lives. Although there are dangers of social media, the ease with which people can interact with others online means that it is where many young people can find communities, and others with similar experiences and opinions on political and social issues. Social media functions through people publishing posts that attract attention. Young people are therefore accustomed to a world in which almost everyone has an opinion, and many issues are discussed in real-time. This generation does not generally regularly read newspapers, so for much social media is their source of news.

Social media posts are rapid-fire messages. They, therefore, provide an excellent source of education on important issues, like institutional racism, and easy method for discussion. #MeToo showed the power of social media to build momentum and share personal stories, which makes activism more impactful.

During COVID-19, online activism through social media has come to the fore as in-person interaction has not been possible, and social media became the main method of communication. The speed with which Black Lives Matter gained traction in the UK demonstrates how social media not only unites but also organises young people. Black Lives Matter is also an example of why social media is so important: issues are highlighted online, but something as simple as a one Facebook Event page, which is then shared, could immediately organise a full protest.

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