Digitally Yours: In a digital world, students are the future of activism

Terry Nguyen | Daily Trojan

Since Feb. 14, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s student activists have been a political force to be reckoned with — in-person and on social media. In the days immediately following the shooting, the students’ voices served as mere soundbites to supplement the 24-hour news cycle; a few days, tweets and Facebook events later, they emerged as leaders of the #NeverAgain movement, organizing and partaking in walkouts, rallies and political confrontations — fearless, angry and emboldened by their trauma.

Most Americans were surprised — and simultaneously inspired — by the strength these teenagers exhibited through on-camera interviews and social media, boldly clapping back at conspiracy theorists, politicians and conservative commentators in their efforts to delegitimize the students’ experience-driven activism.

Perhaps most surprising was their ability to engage and inspire a movement of young activists through their digital voices alone, while remaining light-hearted, relatable and unabashedly confrontational about what they want: stricter gun laws and a ban on assault weapons nationwide.

Personally, I wasn’t surprised by their online success.

I’m only a year or two older than Emma González, Cameron Kasky, David Hogg and Jaclyn Corin — the most recognizable (and Twitter-verified) names of the student activists. I’m not as surprised as I am proud of these activists for showing America the power of advocacy amplified through social media — the ability to utilize online platforms to magnify their story, regain control of their narrative and organize a campaign against their opponents.

Hogg, through various tweets, had singlehandedly called for the boycotting of companies that supported the National Rifle Association, leading to severed ties with businesses like Enterprise Rent-A-Car and First National Bank of Omaha.

González has already amassed over 1 million Twitter followers, 400,000 more than the official NRA Twitter. She’s best known for her “We call BS” speech at a gun control rally and fearless interruption of NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch at the CNN Town Hall.

This generation — my generation — grew up immersed in the digital space, but our voices expand beyond the virtual abyss. We learned how to craft our own virtual profiles; we taught ourselves to be digitally literate; we conversed through chat rooms and forum pages through strange acronyms and emojis; we utilized Facebook event pages to invite friends to our birthday parties and witnessed the conception of trending hashtags on Twitter.

All of this digital knowledge, when transferred into a purpose for advocacy, whether it be through the Women’s March, Black Lives Matter, Graduate Student Tax Walkout or the March For Our Lives movements, becomes an unstoppable force — a force the world has only just begun to recognize.

Young people have always been at the forefront of large-scale political movements, domestically and globally. The Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War protests were spearheaded by young people, many of whom were college students.

Millennials and later generations are constantly portrayed as privileged, lazy and shallow as a result of the technological advances they have grown accustomed to. Instead, access to digital devices have fostered a diverse and empathetic generation of individuals who can virtually experience and educate themselves on issues to which they otherwise would not be exposed.

As González said, they are able to utilize the internet to ensure they are well-versed in their political opinions and ensure their arguments are watertight, so that no pundit or fact-checker would be able to dismiss them.

Equipped with tenacity and the experience-driven authority of their statuses as survivors, these student activists embody the future of political activism, one that has rapidly gained ground through smart social media strategies and cutting tweets aimed at politicians.

In an interview with ABC, Hogg admitted his generation did enjoy certain privileges that allowed them to complain. And with complaints comes blatant criticism — something the student activists and other voices of this generation are not afraid to express when it comes to political issues.

Although many individuals from older generations disregard digital platforms as a means for enacting social and political change, the foundations of grassroots organization are found within tweets, Facebook events and online forums. These spaces encourage communication and dialogue surrounding important community issues that were once touched upon through only physical campaigning and canvassing.

And the force of these campaigns, which has emerged from the burst in political engagement following the 2016 presidential election, will only grow with the ubiquity of online platforms.

Terry Nguyen is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the features editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Digitally Yours,” runs every other Tuesday.