OPINION COPY Six outstretched hands hold laptops, smartphones and tablets all attempting to connect to a wifi signal (copy)

Opinion columnist Hattie Friesen argues that the convenience of social media strengthens the momentum of modern social activism.

Opinion

The influence of social media during the Black Lives Matter movement is an essential element of modern activism.

While the entire nation has been monitoring the evolution of surging protests and demands for social justice, younger generations are receiving their daily dose of current events via social media platforms.

As of April 2020, two-thirds of Instagram users are below the age of 34. Even if social media growth ceased, it has already become an integral part of youth culture. Additionally, an average user spends about two and a half hours a day on social media. The combination of a young online population and high level of use is also similar in apps like YouTube and Snapchat. 

Social media has become the ideal method for keeping young people up to date with the world.

Since the murder of George Floyd, a tragedy which propelled the crusade for racial equality into the limelight, #GeorgeFloyd has garnered over two million posts on Instagram from users seeking justice for a man wrongfully killed by police. Posts have supplied users with signable petitions, videos from protests and even artwork in Floyd's honor.

Although the murder of Floyd was a catalyst for the recent spike in outrage, the Black Lives Matter movement has remained within the sight line of American news crews for years.

The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, created in 2013 in response to the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, has been used in approximately 47.8 million tweets. When browsing the hashtag, one can expect to find resources detailing what it means to be anti-racist, how and why policing should change, and ways to help the cause.

With social media’s expansive role in our daily lives, it has become effortless to spread awareness and support for political reform. It remains important to verify any news or statistics before considering them accurate and credible. Just like at Fox News or CNN, bias exists here, too.

Toeing the line between staying aware and overwhelming yourself with the conglomerate of online opinions is a slippery slope. It’s important to be involved, but more important not to sacrifice your mental health while scrolling.

The vast majority of historical movements took place without the help of social media. But, since its origins roughly 20 years ago, social media has played a key role in the advancement of social causes.

One notable example with similar popularity to #BlackLivesMatter occurred in 2017. The phrase ‘Me too,’ originally coined in 2007 by activist Tarana Burke, was turned into a hashtag for women to share their stories about sexual assault and abuse they've experienced.

Now, the hashtag has over 2.5 million Instagram posts.

Even then, “hashtag activism” was criticized for being hollow and useless. However, its prevalence is a testament to the power of the viral hashtag when it comes to spreading awareness. The accessibility of Instagram and Twitter has made it simple to educate oneself on world events.

When I think of activism, I think of the pictures in textbooks of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Selma march or women’s suffrage signs. While these physical protests are still necessary, the fight for justice has extended into cyberspace.

Even if you don’t live in a major city and have yet to witness the movement in person, the constant stream of related posts are impossible to avoid on social media.

Despite its criticism, the most irrefutable benefit of hashtag activism is that it cannot be ignored. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to protests which never interrupt your life, but when they confront you each time you turn on your phone, you’re forced to pay attention.  

At 18 years old, I am still fine-tuning my moral compass and learning to be independent from the ideals I adopted as a child. Young people like myself, who have never experienced such extreme and publicized civil unrest during their lifetime, are eager for an explanation.  

Luckily, staying informed and supporting the fight for change can be as simple as logging on.

Hattie Friesen is a freshman from Olathe studying English and linguistics.