Social Media Activism – and how the next generation is making the world listen

Ever since I was a child, I remember hearing about ‘Global Warming’ and ‘Climate Change’. I saw documentaries, movies and live examples of flooding and landslides for enough evidence that climate change was real.
But it never stuck.
However today, we’re witnessing a global movement in all parts of the world where individuals are talking about climate change, a tsunami of activism and awareness brought on by Social Media.

Before social media
According to the bimonthly journal ‘Environment and Behavior’, “The issue of climate change has usually been perceived as abstract, complex, and distant.” From politicians’ lack of eagerness to accept climate change, and traditional medias’ unreliability, the simple ideas of climate change and what it could mean to us was never really translated well.

"While people believe in climate change and its environmental impacts, the ideas never seemed current or held any ground with specificity. The scientific findings were not packaged well, and were often difficult to understand by non-academics."

Often portrayed as an “impending doom” that is being fueled by all the actions performed by mankind, the information lacked depth and focus. If people believe it is unavoidable, little action would be taken to find solutions for it. And with empty blaring alarms of an impending doom with no evidence and/or solution, these ideas were soon over saturated, and ignored.
Idea Framing in Climate Change Activism

First, what is activism?
Activism is acting on an idea and bringing about change. Through campaigns, marches and awareness, activism helps make changes in the political, social, economic and now, environmental sectors of the world. 

Activism is all about framing an idea for efficient communication. Framing has 3 parts – understanding your audience, highlighting major aspects of your idea and forming the best approach of information portrayal to the masses. In the ‘Journal of Communication’, Entman defines framing as “an act to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation”. Framing, in the case of Climate Change, has been considered as a key element to cause impact, actions and efficiency. 

Why is communicating effectively important?

Climate change effects need to be communicated to the public so that they can understand and mitigate their effects. Psychological distance aspects  have been detrimental for environmental activism as people perceive climate change as something that will only happen in the future. That the individual at the current time is not affected by it. 

The act of efficient communication helps change an individual’s perception about a problem, so that it can be addressed and they can take the action necessary to resolve it. It helps communicate the severity of a problem in live time, and talks about not just how to understand it, but also how to mitigate it.

We often hear the phrase “communication is key” when solving problems in the relationship. Climate crisis is a relationship between the environment, and us. And the only way to mutually and sustainably survive, we need communication.

Social Media during the Climate Crisis
For young climate activists, social media is undoubtedly a critical tool. Social media platforms are having profound effects across society, creating new channels for public debate, and have transformed how important public issues like climate change are communicated.

"The younger generation today are using social media savviness to form global movements for climate activism."

Social media has, over the course of a decade, established a new hierarchy of communication, weakening the power of traditional gatekeepers such as media companies, political parties, and scientific organizations, while elevating the potential of individuals (especially young individuals) to reach large numbers of people by simply self-publishing their ideas.

Greta Thurnberg, a 16-year-old climate activist, has made a prominent impact after skipping school in 2018 to strike for climate action outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm. Thunberg is known the original climate striker, whose example has inspired masses of young people around the world to take part in protests as part of the #FridaysForFuture movement. She even admitted that “Without social media, I don’t think it would have worked.” And her prime mode of communication? Social media.

An estimated 1.6 million kids in 125 countries have marched on the streets for climate justice since the March of 2020. And a youth-led demonstration last September (held worldwide) was the largest climate protest recorded in history!

The youth has been protesting and contesting laws for the climate crisis since the dawn of time. But their voices are only finally getting heard now that information is being shared through social media platforms. As mentioned before, proper framing and communicating have been key in making climate activism such a success today. These movements’ visibility on social media platforms not only share necessary data but they frame it in a way that young people want to be involved, and bring about change in their communities. But they aren’t just saying words and chanting in public as a demonstration. 

"Young activists are changing the perspective of 'climate change' into 'climate justice'."

It might be assumed that these young individuals know little about such important topics for social change, given their age and lack of experience in the field. However, this assumption might not be entirely true. Social media produces and provides large volumes of data that are readily available by scientific houses and academic journals. The youth is simply taking their time understanding it, and sharing the information in a way that the world will respond to.

Sharing personal stories from around the world, they are framing the idea that as normal citizens, their future, and the climate’s future, is at stake due to the current practices of the world. That “it would be an injustice for the youth, and the planet” to not be given a safe and sustainable world to live and grow in.

But is this all working?

Yes! Adults, politicians, and major organizations are now listening. Stories of young people all across the world have impacted all the sectors of the economy and society. Because adults do not only see teens and young adults as victims of climate change. In a study of youth participants (those aged 16 to 24) at UN climate talks, researchers found that adults perceived them as having greater moral integrity than other participants – “because they aren’t being paid to attend these meetings. They are here for the greater good”. And these are the videos, articles and information that end up being shared on various platforms, and help the community grow.

Every brand is looking for a sustainable and “green” alternative to their business. Powerhouse countries such as China, are forming a “Green Initiative” to completely cut down carbon emissions over the course of a few decades. People are educating, and joining the movement, to learn and implement sustainable habits in their lives.

All these positive impacts have had a ripple effect caused by a handful of movements on social media from our younger population. Watching, and being a part of these historic events unfold has continued to shift and change as the movement grows. And the world is taking notice.

So, what now?

Now, we continue on what has been built over the last couple of years.
It is an exhilarating feeling to have my parents, and even grandparents, now talk about the climate crisis and refuse the plastic bags in the grocery stores. Watching companies that have severely disregarded all climate crisis claims, to slowly change their ways and apply a more sustainable approach.

"Being a part of these movements has not only given me purpose, but it helps me belong to a huge community that is working towards the same goal - a sustainable future for the planet."

The idea of a climate crisis will always be bigger than us, and will always be a concept that cannot fully be explained. But through platforms on social media, this gap of miscommunication can be filled. Not only can we reach an unprecedented number of people through social media, but our work can have a direct effect on the political landscape concerning our planet.
(source: unsplash)

“We all have a voice, and we all should use it, and this is really the time where kids can make an impact on the planet now.”

- Genesis Butler

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Picture of Sushim Thapaliya
Sushim Thapaliya

Sushim is a final year Marketing student, currently residing in Malaysia. With a strong passion for photography and storytelling Sushim aspires to be a Photojournalist. She hopes to continue sharing beautiful stories of people, cultures and ideas from across the world.
Follow Sushim on IG: @sushi.laya

Picture of Sushim Thapaliya
Sushim Thapaliya

Sushim is a final year Marketing student, currently residing in Malaysia. With a strong passion for photography and storytelling Sushim aspires to be a Photojournalist. She hopes to continue sharing beautiful stories of people, cultures and ideas from across the world.
Follow Sushim on IG: @sushi.laya

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