We’re familiar with the stereotypes about Millennials and Generation Z: "they’re lazy," "they’re narcissistic," and "we’ve traded the ‘greatest generation’ for the ‘selfie generation.’" But the idea that the rise of social media has led to narcissism and shallow self-promotion misses an essential point. It underestimates the enthusiasm that Millennials and Gen Zers have to use these mediums and their creativity in an effort to advocate for others and defend human rights on a global scale.
The 2017 Women’s March saw millions of people gather and rally in defense of women’s rights, and it all started from a Facebook event invitation. Similarly, social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter—and now Snapchat and Periscope—allow footage of protests or other social advocacy efforts to be disseminated in real-time.
In the U.S., young people are engaging with social and political issues in numbers and with an enthusiasm that harkens back to the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War protests. The difference is that, in addition to protesting in the streets, they are using platforms such as Snapchat and Facebook Live to advocate for social justice. They’re responding in huge numbers to traditional media that tackle these issues. Outlets such as Teen Vogue, which have traditionally steered clear of more political topics, have begun to publish in-depth coverage of social justice issues in response to their readers’ interest in politics. In fact, their most-read article of 2016 was an op-ed by Lauren Duca titled, "Donald Trump is gaslighting America."
Last year’s election of Donald Trump has only increased desire to engage and to be heard. Achieve, a cause research and marketing agency, teamed up with the Case Foundation to survey more than 100,000 Millennials over the last eight years. Their Millennial Impact Report found that before the election, Millennials were most concerned with issues of education and employment. Today, the number one social cause of interest is civil rights and racial discrimination, even if respondents felt these issues did not affect them directly.
I’m confident that Millennials and Gen Z will be powerful activists who demand that their leaders defend the rights of others and, if we are lucky, they will fight to protect and defend human rights like no generation before them. They’re already off to a great start.
Amanda Simon is interim deputy executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A.