This op-ed story was produced during the Fall 2020 Youth Voice Workshop.
May 25, 2020, is one day I won’t forget. I was sitting at my kitchen table when the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd entered my newsfeed. While it was hard to watch, I felt it was important to confront the realities of police brutality and racial injustice in my community.
I wasn’t alone: the video, posted by a young bystander, was viewed over 1.4 billion times. Protests erupted across the country. Though I couldn’t attend I kept up on social media by signing petitions and reposting images. Through conversations both on and offline, I gained a deeper understanding of racial injustice and ways to be an ally. While social media can sometimes contribute to toxic divisiveness, it can also be a powerful tool for conversations that lead to real change.
While social media is often seen as a passive activity, it can prompt important, offline conversations. As I sifted through all of the reactions and news stories on social media, I noticed my cousin had joined the conversation. I had a conversation with her and came away from it having gained a deeper understanding of oppression that people of color face in America.
In addition, social media has helped me learn about other human rights movements. I go to a Christian school, which promotes religious viewpoints without acknowledging others. However, through social media, I’ve expanded my viewpoints, learning about and discussing different cultures and religions. Even when I don’t agree with a new viewpoint, it’s fascinating just to see how people believe different things because of what they have experienced in their life.
Likewise, social media can offer a safe outlet — with privacy controls — for expressing one’s opinions. This can also have mental health benefits as people find like-minded friends. No matter what you believe or how you believe it, someone on social media is going to agree with you. There is a place for you. I have never felt more accepted or understood than I have from people I’ve gotten to know through social media. If it wasn’t for social media, I would not have the knowledge I have on so many different topics.
This opportunity to connect with others has only grown more important during the pandemic. I learned about the election results via a notification from Apple News. I was able to watch those close to me post about the victory. Without social media, we wouldn’t have this communal aspect of virtually celebrating president-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump.
Still, social media shouldn’t consist of your whole life. At times social media can be overwhelming because you are learning so much about so many things that are happening around the world. It is important to know when to take a break and that it is okay to step away to process what’s happening.
Social media has so many stories to read and listen to, and it allows you to have conversations with people about them. Such conversations even led me to explore journalism and join the ThreeSixty Journalism program. While social media sometimes mirrors the division in our country, it also allows us to see past the barriers — giving us an opportunity to take action and giving us a path to community.
Social media flows into real life; it has real benefits; it can lead to real change; at a time when we are debating the pros/cons of social media, there are some real benefits to be examined.