Millennials Care: How Social Media and Connectivity have the Power to Change the World

Kaeley McEvoy ’14

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Last week on the 95th birthday of Nelson Mandela, I posted a Facebook status with the quote printed above. I thought almost nothing of the post but very quickly an alarming amount of “Likes” appeared on my Facebook notifications. As the day progressed, the Likes kept coming. And it was strange to me that these social media interactions were not just from my close friends, but people I had fallen out of contact with, friends of friends, people who I had briefly encountered. The more names that continued to pop up on my screen the more I became to ponder something larger. My small Facebook status became a platform for a louder reminder of a simple fact: Millennials Care.

There has been a large contingency brewing over the last decade that has opted to doubt my generation. Seen as “lazy, entitled narcissists, who still live with their parents” according to the May 2013 Time Magazine cover, generation Y, or the Millennials, continue to get a poor reputation among their elders for being self-absorbed and technologically addicted.

I cannot completely deny some of these facts. During Christmas when my 15 year-old cousin took pictures on SnapChat during our entire five course meal, I will admit that I was somewhat frightened by the growth of technology. But more recently, I have come to believe in so many ways that technology and social media are working together to advance society to new heights and Millennials are leading the pack.

The enormous list of social media success stories is endless. The tremendous explosion of Invisible Children’s KONY 2012, which has now been viewed by 98 million people worldwide, is one example. Although some critics attempt to deflate the success of the campaign, it cannot be denied that “in the Kony case, 850,000 Facebook users clicked the “like” button. What resulted was the deployment of 100 U.S. advisers and 5,000 African Union troops whose mission was to hunt down Kony.” For the first time, generation Y spoke with their social media personas, and the government listened.

Another example of the power of social media international activism was displayed in the organization of Arab Spring protests. According to Mark Pfeifle, Deputy National Security Adviser for strategic communications and global outreach at the National Security Council from 2007 to 2009, in the streets of Cairo, “Social media may not have been the spark that set the fire, but it certainly provided the oxygen that caused it to spread.”

One of my favorite social media activists is Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edry who used his skills of graphic design to create an international campaign called Israel-Loves-Iran to send messages of love across geographical and political divides through social media outlets. Edry’s posters have worked to visually show how humanities’ compassion has the potential to deteriorate barriers of hatred through the connectivity of the internet.

This is not to overlook harmful aspects of “social media activism” or what some have even entitled “Slackvitism.” In early June, UNICEF Sweden introduced a very strongly focused ad campaign with the message “Likes don’t save lives. Money does.” There is strong worry that social media allows for the excuse of retweeting instead of reacting. However, the fact that social media has the potential to promote and enhance social awareness is undeniable.

The plethora of social media success stories can continue. One thread has been sewed through them all: Millennials are leading the way.

Millennials, according the Pew Research Center, “are the most ethnically and racially diverse cohort of youth in the nation’s history.” They are “confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.” And 75% of them have Facebook. The Millennials are on track “to become the most educated generation in American history.” And they will tell you about it on Twitter.

I’m not suggesting that social media can solve world hunger or find a diplomatic end to conflict, but it certainly can give issues a voice. I cannot say that my one Facebook status created immense global or social change. But if it for one second got an old friend thinking more actively about humanity, then that’s one point for the Millennials.