Can Gen Z save us from ourselves?

It’s starting to look like Gen Z are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Not that they have much choice; climate change is no longer merely a threat; it’s here in the form of Cyclone Idai, Tropical Storm Imelda and the devastating floods in India last year. Equally urgent is the need to end systemic police violence against BIPOC, eradicate school shootings, fight voter suppression…and the list goes on.

Lucky for us, Gen Z considers political and social engagement a priority—even an obligation. A 2019 report found that almost 75% of Gen Z believe that being politically and socially active is “very important” to their identity. From Greta Thunberg to Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old who filmed George Floyd’s murder, digital natives want to do more than take a personal stand; they want to influence others to create change. 

Ziad Ahmed, the Yale student who founded Redefy at 14 as a hub for student activism, put it like this: “We’re looking at a world where there is so much injustice and brutality and unfairness and bias, and we’re saying, damn it, we can’t just let this keep going.”

When it comes to the behavior of politicians, celebrities and even brands, it’s not about cancel culture, it’s about accountability—and it’s thriving, in large part due to social media. Here are some of the recent ways Gen Z has used social media to disrupt and change the world.

Time to rally

At President Trump’s June rally in Tulsa, OK, out of one million RSVPs, organizers expected 100,000 attendees. When only 6,200 ticket holders showed up, Gen Z TikTok users and K-pop stans claimed responsibility. Savvy enough to boost video views, they spread the word to register and no-show via Alt TikTok, K-pop Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, then deleted their messages 24-48 hours later. Stunts like this are both a powerful form of protest and a way to participate in politics for those who can’t yet vote. (And now Trump wants to ban TikTok…is it really about data security and privacy?) 

Beyond boy bands

K-pop fans have a bigger agenda than simply embarrassing the president. They’re also active supporters of Black Lives Matter. BTS, a K-pop boy band so big they represent 0.3% of South Korea’s GDP, donated $1 million to BLM and the BTS “army” swiftly responded by raising another million. K-pop fans have also drowned out racists by flooding Twitter with videos and photos of the band tagged with #WhiteLivesMatter and #ItsOkayToBeRacist. As a result, Twitter’s algorithm now categorizes those hashtags as K-pop trends. They’ve initiated mass emailings to universities like Harvard and Yale to advocate for the expulsion of racist students and, when the Dallas Police Department asked for videos of illegal activities at protests, they flooded a Dallas police app with dance videos, temporarily disabling it.

#NeverAgain

After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, surviving students launched a movement that reenergized the country behind gun control. Using social media, they garnered massive public support for specific gun control legislation, registered hundreds of thousands of high school students to vote, coordinated a massive school walk-out and organized the March for Our Lives protest in D.C. that drew hundreds of thousands of participants and spawned 800 sister marches. Gen Z is bold and fearless; survivor Cameron Kasky went head to head with Sen. Marco Rubio on national TV in a live town hall, asking if he would turn down money from the NRA. (Rubio stuttered and flailed, and was booed.) Major retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods pulled assault-style rifles from their shelves as a result of pressure from the campaign. 

Postscript

Watch Deutsche Telekom’s new spot starring Billie Eilish; it’s both a recognition and a celebration of Gen Z’s dedication to doing good.

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