Social media platforms encourage young people to create and share content with their peers around the globe, which has amplified their voices and their potential to make a difference.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, an agency of the United Nations, information and communication technology has played a central role in young people’s rise to prominence on a global scale.
“It has helped them to mobilize behind a common cause and to collaborate, and it has given them a voice where before they had none,” the agency said in a 2013 report.
Worldwide, young people use technology to become engaged in issues such as illegal child labor, poverty, student rights, free speech and censorship, homelessness, rural and urban issues, community development, racism and the environment.
And while access to the internet and digital services is not yet universal, online activism has helped to let go of the idea that certain issues are “just too big” and nothing can be done as individuals.
Technology helps us to become more knowledgeable and engage in an issue through education. Often, people learn about an issue, get motivated to help, sign a petition and even donate to a cause after reading an article a friend shared on social media. This passion leads us to find ways to help people as much as we can.
(It is important to keep in mind that there are risks of misinformation if something is shared without being properly researched and risks being exposed to hateful comments. Extreme caution and responsibility is advised, especially when safeguarding people’s privacy and well-being online and offline.)
Some online campaigns have been criticized as self-serving fads, empty gestures or “slacktivism,” but even then, these campaigns have the potential to bring forth change. An example of this is the ALS Association’s ice bucket challenge, which raised online awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It also raised more than $115 million in donations for medical research in 2014.
When facing injustice or wanting to help others, turning to the internet is a way to garner support via social media or websites like change.org.
Because of technology, many young activists today can share their powerful stories.
An example of this is Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, a teenager who was shot by the Taliban for defending women’s right to education.
Before receiving the Nobel Prize at 17, this iconic education advocate started speaking out through a blog, Diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl, under a pseudonym, describing her life under the Taliban. She now has a foundation that works to secure girls’ right to a minimum of 12 years of education, especially in developing countries.
When asked by students how can they bring change to their communities, Malala, who was recently named the youngest United Nations Messenger of Peace, tells them to come forward and participate. “Often, we think we are too young, or our ideas may not work, and we need to grow up to bring change. I just say no,” she said in a recent interview with a teen magazine. “Whatever you want to do now, you can do it.”
Whether you’re on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Tumblr or Twitter, social media has the potential to support others — with prayers and messages of encouragement — and to advocate solutions for underlying problems.
Online advocacy can be a catalyst for other actions offline, like calling your legislator, going to a rally or dedicating hours to volunteering. After all, being engaged online is one more tool in the toolbox to become involved in our communities and take action.
Maria-Pia Negro Chin is bilingual associate editor at Maryknoll Magazine.