Why Gen Z needs to go beyond social media to strengthen our democracy

Our democracy needs more active participation and less posts


Ms. Rishika Dugyala

One-in-ten eligible voters this presidential election will be members of Generation Z.

Although externally Generation Z (Gen Z) seems to be a generation filled with activism, political involvement, and social awareness, in fact, we, as members of Gen Z, are not actually doing our part to strengthen our country’s democracy.  Gen Z tasks itself with solving the rising challenges that we have seen throughout this year such as the prevalence of misinformation, the public outcry of racial injustice, and the mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, but the way in which we are doing so is inefficient, fruitless, and for the most part, performative. 

As a generation that makes up the heaviest user segment for nine of the top 16 social media platforms, what we see on social media is often our primary influence, according to american.edu.  Ninety-seven percent of us use at least one of the seven major online platforms, according to pewresearch.orgMoreover, research shows that the vast majority of teenagers have trouble navigating digital information, according to purl.stanford.edu.

Researchers with the Stanford History Education Group administer tasks to students across the country to test their ability to reason about information on the Internet.  Courtesy of stacks.stanford.edu

MediaWise’s Teen Fact-Checking Network publishes daily fact-checks for teenagers, produced by teenagers.  Not only does this website debunk misinformation, but it also teaches its audience media-literacy skills so they can evaluate information on their own.  Resources like this for high school and college students are becoming increasingly prevalent and we should be using them to our advantage to ensure that we do not fall into the trap of ignorance resulting from misinformation.

If the information that we, as a generation, upon which we base our political opinions is riddled with falsities and we do not spend the extra time conducting research using trustworthy news sources, such as online newspapers, then, we cannot claim that we are completely knowledgeable and educated about the important issues that surround our democracy.  Knowledge is power, and by educating ourselves using reliable, unbiased news sources, we can be more informed voters and citizens able to engage in discourse with our peers about issues, such as climate change, foreign policy, and health care, that go beyond the topics that consume us on social media.

Our generation often only focuses on social issues, avoiding educating ourselves on other pertinent economic issues.  This leads several of us to engage in performative activism, such as posting a black square on Instagram to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, perhaps not with bad intentions, but by doing so, we are not actually making change or contributing to the fight against racial inequality in the United States.  Although our voices may be heard through social media and it can be a vehicle that allows us to speak up for what we think is right, we need not only to be angered and mobilized by the injustices we see in our country, but then also to turn to reliable news sources to become more informed, and to find ways that we can make lasting and impactful change. 

As opposed to only voicing our opinions on social media, it is imperative that we act on these beliefs and become involved in our communities.  Intern for a political candidate on the state or federal level, become involved with nonprofit organizations that highlight the importance of getting out the vote, volunteer to be a poll worker at your local polling place, make sure you know who your representative and senators are, or simply participate in state and local elections, in addition to presidential elections. 

MediaWise facilitates a fact-checking tool ran by teenagers, in the hopes of debunking misinformation and teaching Generation Z media-literacy skills.  Courtesy of poynter.org

We may feel disheartened as high school and college students after witnessing threats to our democracy, such as systemic racism, excess executive power, political polarization, and growing economic inequality, and not knowing what we can do about it.  Evidently, voting is the most important way to contribute to and protect our democracy, and the tendency to think that voting is insignificant, especially in presidential elections, will be detrimental to our society and democracy.  We may feel that our one vote will not count, or that we do not know for whom to vote, but our vote is our voice in our country and democracy.

This year, one-in-ten eligible voters in the electorate will be members of Gen Z, according to pewsocialtrends.org.  Although it may not seem like it, that percentage is enough to sway an election and alter policy positions, thus taking charge of our future.  Performative activism, turning to unreliable sources through social media, and claiming to be educated about our nation and its problems does not help our democracy, and may, in fact, weaken it.

So, I urge you all, as Sacred Heart students who strive to achieve Goal Three of Sacred Heart’s Goals and Criteria “a social awareness which impels to action,” if you are going to be of age this presidential election, register to vote, think critically about this election, and go vote November 3.  If you will not be old enough, do your part by spending five to ten minutes every day reading reliable news sources, educating yourself on the presidential candidates, and finding ways to be active in your community to make a tangible impact, beyond social media. 

Featured Image Courtesy of Ms. Rishika Dugyala