On March 25 of this year, George Floyd’s wrongful arrest and violent murder at the hands of Minnesota police officer, Derek Chauvin, was filmed and spread across the internet like wildfire. In response to this video, worldwide outrage sparked a change in many people and in the course of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many GenZ, those born after 1995, saw the opportunity to use their own voices, in ways never used before, to be active in changing the culture of systemic racism in America. To make these strides, GenZ uses the thing that is often criticized by other generations and used against them, social media.
In the past few weeks, more and more instances of verbal harassment of people of color have been recorded and posted on the internet. How does Gen Z, a generation notorious for their social anxiety handle it? By finding the harasser on social media, filling their feed with “fairy comments,” a scathing comment that starts off nice but becomes mean and of course is filled with all manner of faith and glitter emojis, and getting them fired from their jobs. This level of accountability has even led to the coining of a new term, the “Karen”. A “Karen” is a white woman who either calls the police or verbally assaults a person of color. These incidents have garnered a lot of media attention, including accounts on Instagram like @karensgoingwild, which has amassed over one million followers since its creation. One of the most notable instances of this happened in Central Park on May 25, 2020, when Amy Cooper called the police on black birdwatcher Christian Cooper, after he politely asked her to follow the park’s rules about keeping dogs on leashes in bird watching areas. This incident incited the anger of many people on the internet due to the fact that Amy falsely claimed that “An African American man was threatening [her].”
These attempts at intimidation are nothing new, and can be compared to the verbal assault endured by Ruby Bridges in 1960 upon integrating her Louisiana elementary school, or the intimidation tactics used by Ku Klux Klan-organized mobs at voter booths in the South.
Gen Z, and the collective internet has been using their resources and instant connectivity to take a stand and make it known that intimidation and bullying will not be tolerated. Not only does this generation use their tech savvy to retaliate against these intimidation tactics, but to collectively “troll” the president. TikTok, a video sharing app, was integral in the “flop” that was President Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa Oklahoma. 40% of TikTok users are Gen Z between the ages of 16 and 24 and many news outlets have coined the term “zoomers” when discussing this age group. Influencer Elijah Daniel, while not a Gen Z, has publicly credited “Alt TikTok” (a subculture of political activists and content creators who don’t fall into the majority trends of the app) as well as “K-Pop stan twitter” (a Twitter subculture of Korean pop music fans) with the prank that lead to abysmal turnout to Trump’s rally. Since the Trump rally, several TikTok videos have suggested that Gen Z should take similar actions against future rallies.
K-Pop “stans” have also been credited with flooding #whitelivesmatter hashtags as well as an app created by Dallas police to report rioters with music edits and videos of popular K-Pop singers. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on TikTok is filled with emotional clips from protests and creative skits from black and POC creators. While millennial and Gen Z conservatives have a strong presence on the app, they are being overshadowed by popular creators using their platforms to create change. While TikTok is using its brand to highlight black creators and content following the death of George Floyd, in the beginning of March, it was receiving backlash for deleting posts under the Black Lives Matter and George Floyd hashtags, and shadowbanning (not allowing content) to of black creators. The app backpedaled on this censoring as creators banded together to ‘signal boost’ and share their posts. Notable creators like Charli D’Amelio have used their millions of followers and billions of collective likes to further the movement. Charli’s video in solidarity with black lives has reached 121.8 million views and 17.5 million likes.
The Black Lives Matter movement advancing to social media sparked various different reactions across different platforms. A platform such as twitter shares quick information or threads to bring awareness to the movement. Petitions, donations, and other resources are easily shared through twitter and reach thousands across the world and in the United States. A platform such as Instagram however, presents more creativity and solidarity to the movement compared to other social media spaces. In the last month, Instagram users have recently utilized the app to share personal experiences or the experiences of others to express the idea that microaggressions and racism are not new and affect people of color in their everyday lives. On Instagram, a new movement has been created, mostly within Atlanta private schools, where accounts will post the submissions they receive that detail the racism and offensive behavior that occurs at these schools. Submissions on these accounts give many perspectives on these occurrences from current students, alumni, teachers, and parents affiliated with these schools. When asked about her reaction to these pages, Atlanta-area high school student Michelle, class of 2022, told VOX ATL that she “wasn’t surprised because [she] knew that the school was very biased” to people of color but did not know the extent of racism that occurs and pages like these clearly revealed these issues. In response to the backlash that parents and students have expressed, administration from multiple schools plan to create safe spaces for POC students to share their experiences and other reforms within the respective school.
While accounts like these serve a positive purpose, not all social media activism has been effective in bettering the movement. On June 2 millions of Instagram users did a social media “blackout” by posting a plain black square to their accounts. By doing this, participants in this blackout hoped to spread awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement and show solidarity. However, others believed this action was a useless act and did nothing but block important information regarding protests and the movement from reaching others. Contradictory actions such as the blackout on Instagram have become relevant throughout the movement. The term “performative activism” has been brought up throughout this movement, as many young people exhibited a double standard by posting in solidarity, only when it’s cool or “trendy”. The problem with performative activism is that it enhances the idea that the Black lives Matter movement is only a trend and only deserves a short time of attention. For instance, many of those who posted the black square on instagram have already removed their posts to not “ruin” the aesthetic of their pages. While the intention behind the posts was to demonstrate solidarity, many posted them to avoid ostracism from their peers. This fear of backlash shows the positive trend towards vocal and social activism, and sers a hopeful tone for the future of the Black Lives Matter movement.
While many adults believe that young people today have become lazy and entitled due to technology, technology has given teens both a deeper understanding of our unique position in history. We have lived through many historically significant events, we have been given a global network and support system that will allow for us to make a greater change in our world. The awareness that social media has brought to young people has developed a force that will serve as the future of activism.
Morgan Kenly, 15, Woodward Academy
Christine Belcher,17, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School