Hundreds of students, as well as people around the District, began participating in weekly climate strikes late last month.
Students used the movement to demand that government officials act on rising temperatures, but they also used the strike as a photoshoot for their social media accounts. Many young adults, including students, captured images of themselves and friends at the event and cluttered social media with photos of protests. A serious event meant for promoting environmental preservation evolved into a tacky background for some students to boost their likes and followings. Posting about the climate strike on social media is OK, but only if the posts are used to spread awareness and knowledge of the issue at hand.
Social media is an effective tool to share our thoughts and incite change. Some use the tool to spread awareness for important issues or to motivate fellow users to take action, but others exploit popular movements through the internet by posting pictures without wholeheartedly participating. Protests generate buzz online and are often accompanied by trending hashtags and attention from influential figures.
But too many young people mooch off of the temporary fame and receive unwarranted praise for doing the bare minimum and posting a picture. Online activism can be effective when it is used to actually spread knowledge of an issue, but social media posts touting students’ involvement in a popular movement does not make a difference in the fight against issues like climate change.
Social media creates a competitive atmosphere. Users are often pressured to present the best version of themselves through pictures, and popularity is determined by likes and comments. After the climate strike, in addition to the Women’s March and March For Our Lives, I saw many students who were not engaged in activism suddenly litter their social media with political jargon. By capturing the same basic images and wearing trendy protest garb, students can misleadingly pose as activists instead of unspoken bystanders.
Students are steps away from government officials and policymakers. They are in the ideal place to fight for change, and they should exercise their right to protest by participating in events like the Global Climate Strike. But they should not protest just so they can post pictures online. When students digitally document their participation, they are not paying attention to the cause they are protesting for. Until students learn to distinguish what qualifies as valuable content to share online, they cannot fully devote their focus and energy to rallies. It is far more impactful to take to the streets and call for action than it is to post the same generic rally photo online.
Activists like Greta Thunberg, an environmental advocacy supporter, or David Hogg, a Parkland shooting survivor, effectively use social media to increase knowledge and awareness of topics like climate change and gun control. On Instagram, Thunberg suggests ways people can help protect the environment, posting photos depicting her own emission-free voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Thunberg is showing action with her words and proving her participation. On the other hand, Hogg often uses his Instagram account to promote the efforts of other people who are advocating for gun control. Students should realize that photos featuring catchy slogans do not spread awareness as much as demonstrating actions behind promotional photos. There are better ways for students to create real change without bragging about it on social media.
True change-makers do not seek validation for their actions on social media. They speak out because they wholeheartedly believe in a cause, regardless of others’ approval or disapproval. Students who feel passionately about an issue must do more than blog about the dilemma. For instance, they can write to politicians, educate themselves on the cause or join walkouts.
Social media can also be useful to capture the scale of protests or the importance of the issue, which can be done without posting pictures of yourself. If students want to advocate for a cause online, they must be capable of embodying what they preach in real life.
Protesting should not be a way for students to gain likes on social media sites. Students should take protesting seriously because it can create real change.
Allison Hechmer, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is an opinions writer.