Student Story: Social Media Is Not Just For Selfies, But Change

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Commentary By: Paige Britt, Gateway Regional High School, Woodbury Heights, NJ

During the summer, social media became a radically different space for young people everywhere. Instead of feeds being filled with bikini pictures and selfies, infographics, statistics, and activism posts flooded timelines. 

The death of George Floyd, a Black man unfairly targeted and killed by the police, launched a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in May of this year. BLM originated in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman. The goal of the organization is to raise awareness for the violence inflicted on Black people and the systemic oppression the Black community faces. 

Although I was only 11 when the BLM movement began, I remember watching the Trayvon Martin case play out on the news. I knew it was a terrible injustice, but I felt helpless. I didn’t know what I could do to change anything. 

Over the years, I have been complacent. Something horrific would happen to the Black community, or in the world, and I would give it attention for a day and then go back to living in my privileged bubble. Unfortunately, this seemed to be the case for a lot of young people up until very recently. 

Nearly 25.7 million. That’s how many posts are under #blacklivesmatter on Instagram. This has completely opened up the world of activism to teenagers. Not only has this given Black creators the opportunity to spread their own stories along with the stories of victims, but this social media presence allows petitions to be shared, awareness to be raised, and powerful lessons to be taught. 

Having these resources readily available through a few taps on a screen has significantly increased the number of young people involved in these important conversations. Absorbing this information by simply scrolling through apps (that before this felt completely pointless), have made me feel like I have a voice that can be used to help others. Whether you have 10 followers or 10,000 followers, it is crucial to use your voice, and in turn magnify others.

I am a white girl, born with inherent privilege. I will never be able to understand the Black experience, and I have no place to speak on it as if it was my own. Social media has allowed me and other teenagers to amplify Black voices when they are being deafened. Social media has allowed me to learn to be an ally, which is something that must be learned and actively practiced. It is not enough to simply not be racist, but to be diligently anti-racist. 

While it is easy to allow feeds to go back to “normal,” it is critical for young people to remain involved, educated, and inspired. Social media is a tool, and can help ease that feeling of helplessness that washes over when something awful happens in the world. Just one more signature on a petition, or one more share on a post, can make a difference. 

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