By Francesca Mirthil and Jorge Espinoza
Everett, Mass. and El Monte, Calif.
Politics. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that word? Is it suits? Washington D.C.? More than likely, it might be adults. Why? Well, for one, politics used to be something that one had to immerse themselves in, and older people had the ability to easily access and discuss their political viewpoints. If you were a teenager, you had no real way of commu-nicating your opinions.
But now, with a cell phone, a downloadable app, and a cell tower, teens have access to political conversations.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psy-chiatry reported that 90 per-cent of surveyed teens aged 13-17 have used social me-dia at least once; 51 percent reported using it at least once a day. This means that the majority of teens use social media and that the amount of teen-to-teen in-teractions have multiplied. These interactions vary per site, but Instagram is an app of particular interest. On Instagram, social justice and political advocacy have dominated user feeds. But, that is not what Instagram was designed to be.
So what happened? March 2020. As we transitioned our lives to fit inside four walls, social media was a primary source of communication. That was until the death of George Floyd in May of 2020, which spurred a social justice outcry and major social media move-ment.
“All [of] that takes an effect on you,” said Lay-la Brooks, 16, “especially since we were at home and I was in my room all day playing the same video of Black men getting killed by police officers.”
Floyd’s death caused peo-ple to protest, even in the middle of a pandemic, but not everyone did so physi-cally. Many used their social media platforms to make their voices heard. They began following accounts, resharing posts, and designing their own infographics. Now, a year later, many are reckoning with the effec-tiveness of these actions.
For one, social media advocacy was viewed as passive. On Instagram, users are given the chance to fol-low and be followed. Naturally, a user likely follows and is followed by those who share their opinions. This limits the potential for ideas to be challenged. Info-graphics and other content then become useless, regard-less of the information pres-ent within them.
Roxana Martínez, 17, does not fully agree with the idea of the social media echo chamber. Martinez es-timates that 40 percent of the material she interacts with includes contrasting ideas.
Another problem with social media activism is “cancel culture.” Teenagers have expressed that they feel an obligation to speak about politics.
“I felt like I had to post something. Everyone was like, ‘you’re not support-ing or you’re not spread-ing information,’” said Marshalee Mclean, 16. Marginalized individuals also feel pressure to speak out about issues corre-lated to their race simply because society demands it. “They’ll start to look at me when we’re talk-ing about immigration rights,” said Yarlin Morales, 16. “It’s almost like, I’m forced to do it or like [it’s] my responsibility.”