Social Activism: Rigged from the Beginning

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The usage of social media for activism is certainly a popular way to use your voice for teenagers and young adults, but is it genuine activism? Via Unsplash

Before Covid-19, daily social interaction meant that teenagers were able to have meaningful conversations about issues in our world, and sharing our thoughts and opinions were a part of everyday life. But with online education and limited social exchanges, some people have turned towards Instagram and re-posting content to output their opinions and personal beliefs into the world. However, social media platforms are very different from reliable news sources, and content can be skewed by third-party agendas, resulting in “news” posts that don’t always portray the truth. With that being said, do these re-posts by individuals accurately reflect their own beliefs or are they just a reflection of news outlets’’ agendas?

Over the years, the rise of social media has wiggled its way into becoming the primary delivery method for news to teens. In a survey conducted by Common Sense Media, “(54%)[of teens] get news at least a few times a week from social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter” However, the news teens are processing isn’t from a general news publication. Most of it comes from influencers and organizations who have an agenda, and this news is laced with opinions curated to garner more attention and spread one idea.

The spread of disinformation affects everyone negatively, yet teens are particularly susceptible. The most impressionable people viewing news on social media are also the ones that are most at risk of misinformation. Due to social media filter bubbles, differentiating between biased and unbiased viewpoints is more challenging on these platforms than in reality. As teenagers compose a large percentage of social media users, they’re exposed to content regularly – and that content will likely impact them more than older age groups. Teenager’s brains are undergoing cognitive development. In ages 12-18, our brains are trying to understand the world and develop viewpoints and opinions. Having misinformation permeates this already difficult time, which leads us to be influenced negatively. Social media allows us to live in a fictional world where everything and everyone believes in what you or I believe in. This is called a “filter bubble”– meaning that we only see what we want to see or agree with based on our actions on social media. This can be influenced by what content we like, re-post, and what kind of people we follow. Even if you only see posts about how climate change is real, you likely know that there are also posts about how climate change is not real, but these posts aren’t present on your feed – an example of a filter bubble. The problem with filter bubbles is that both sides have their opinions, but neither side looks at the full set of facts needed to create a truly unbiased opinion.

If we only see what we want to see and preach one side of a consistently two-sided story, how can we be genuine activists?  We can’t. I am guilty of falling into this circle of perpetuating one-sided content, like many people my age. I previously supported some ideas because I saw one side of the benefits but didn’t look at the negatives associated with it. Social media largely guided my stance on this topic, but the facts that informed my opinion were tailored only to show the positives of the issues, not the negatives. While this issue certainly looks good on paper, I’ve since revised my opinion by doing additional research and reading articles from middle-ground news sites. This led me to break out of my filter bubble and realizing the true extent of the bubble I was living in.

We live in a time where misinformation can sound and seem like the truth, and making that extra step to look into the topic isn’t always thought about. The combination of developing our viewpoints, filter bubbles, and unneeded biases has made social activism during COVID-19 more confusing than it should have been initially. Take a second to think about what you are supporting before actively showing your support for an issue, topic, or figure.