Activism through Social Media: Millennials

Social media became an integral part of life when people started to place high value on information received from each other. The frustration with information received from other inputs, be it TV ads or telemarketing calls, are what caused people to turn to each other. A similar movement, albeit in a different form, is occurring with Millennials and civic participation.

This shift to user-generated information is described by Li & Bernoff as a “spontaneous movement of people using online tools to connect, take charge of their own experience, and get what they need—information, support, ideas, products, and bargaining power—from each other,” otherwise known as groundswell.

This movement is at the core of what has made social media such a large part of adults’ lives across the US, with 73% of online adults using a social networking site of some kind. 71% of online adults use Facebook. Groundswell is also the reason people use avenues like Facebook and Twitter to voice their opinions on issues they care about.

Social media has become a very important tool in sharing information between millennials, particularly in driving social change. They use it to speak up on civic and social issues to foster participation and generate coalitions. 88% of Millennials get their news from Facebook. A lot of this stems from a frustration with the actual content or message of the information they are receiving from other inputs.

There are several examples that – if you asked anyone of our generation – they’d be able to speak volumes.

– Gun Control. Most recently, unfortunately, this speaks to the tragedy Orlando.

– Same Sex Marriage.

– Pray for the World. Pray for Paris. Pray for Belgium. Pray for Turkey. Or put more simply, Global Violence.

– The Elections (and Donald Trump in particular)

Most Millennials are familiar with this

Most Millennials are familiar with this one.

The list goes on. But what is common is one thing, and that is the site of activism and civic participation. It has shifted for the Millennial generation. Where it used to be outside of city halls and on urban streets, now it takes place on the digital landscape through social media. And where civic participation in previous generations used to be limited more-so to those who were the most passionate activists, now all kinds of people build coalitions surrounding issues they care about. It takes every form – from an eloquently written post to the simple share of a video.

The experiences I’ve had personally on social media, even in the last several months, have led me to conclude several core tenants of this Millennial groundswell movement.

  • Youth are more connected than ever before.
  • Youth are more frustrated than ever before. (for better or for worse)
  • Youth are more civically engaged than ever before.

And all one has to do to see this is scroll down their newsfeeds.

Shaun Verma, JHU ’17

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2 thoughts on “Activism through Social Media: Millennials

  1. Hi Shaun,
    Great insights here. I like how you tie the observations into the definition of groundswell. If you were working for an organization championing/promoting a cause what are some best ways to tap into the groundswell movement in social among Millennials?
    Professor Quesenberry

    • I think it’s really about tapping on Millenials’ desire for change, and capturing the feeling of frustration with the status quo. But the hard part comes up with the diversity of issues that this generation relates to, and the changing nature of current topics. f you asked a group of Millenials “what’s wrong with the world today” I’m sure you’d get a hundred different responses. And if you asked the same group of Millenials after a month, I’m sure the response would be different yet again. I think that organizations, especially NGOs, who want to tap this desire for change need to be able to stay current with the issues that Millenials care about and be constantly engaging them on these topics. I think the best example of organizations that do this well are NowThis and Buzzfeed, and they have driven a lot of brand recognition through it.

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