social media and reality
Instareality vs real life
There is no question, social media has changed the way young people socialise. It has become a way to make friends, share interests, explore identities. It’s an extension of our offline personalities. But how do Gen Z really feel about social media?
Eamon (16) says ‘young people are becoming more unsocial. I believe there is a heavy difference between what our parents and people before us had.'
digital and physical socialising
Before, life used to be more social and physical, but it has become digital.
Cree (19) feels differently. ‘I don’t think it is any different to what our parents grew up with. They might not have had social media, but they still had the same pressures of beauty standards and socialising as we do but it just wasn’t virtual.’
Bullying has always existed. From name calling in the playground to online trolling. It can be devastating for a young person. Social media has made it more accessible. Bullies can easily target people at a click of a button.
Yara (16) says ‘social media gives people a platform to be mean. They can be so cruel.’
Cree (19) agrees, ‘they have no consequences for their actions. They are behind a screen and I do think that means people feel more confident.’
Social media and teaching politics or radicalisation
Young people’s political opinions are being shaped by popular YouTubers, livestreamers, podcasters and other influencers. Many would rather watch a video online with their favourite vlogger than watch the news on TV or read a newspaper.
Linh (16) worries about how extreme some of the content she sees online is. ‘I think social media helps to radicalise people to be really right-wing or really left-wing. There should be a medium ground, but there isn't because of the algorithms. I think that is harmful.’
politics and social media
Eamon (16) points out, ‘there is not a lot of common education on political views. Teachers are restricted because they can’t have an opinion.’
Social media actually helps create an interest in politics altogether.
‘I think social media might just be the thing that will help this important interest in politics grow inside a young person’s mind.’
From memes to movements
Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movement use social media in a big way to grow and gain a following. For some, a hashtag may not seem like a big deal, but it can start important conversations. So, does social media have the power to positively impact young people or is it just a form of fake activism?
Linh (16) says ‘activism on social media is very performative. It is just posting BLM stories to prove you’re not racist when in fact you might use a racial slur every other day.’
Cree (19) doesn’t see that as any different to activism offline. ‘There is always going to be two sides of every coin. You are always going to find someone who is doing it for the sake of doing it.
You will also find people that actually believe in it and stand for it.
So, how do young people feel about social media? There is no easy answer. In the words of an old Facebook status, it's complicated. It depends how it's used.
If young people are aware of the risks of being online, like those we talked to, it can be a force for good. In fact, our recent research found that most children aged 10-17 thought being online had a positive or mixed impact on their overall happiness. Perhaps it's not as toxic for our children as we think.
Through education and understanding, young people can make friends, get creative, start trends, without worrying about bullies or those looking to take advantage.