Walking the Talk: How Gen Z and Social Media Are Affecting Real Social Change | Hacker Noon

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Generation Z, or Gen Z, coming on the heels of the Millennials, are more racially and ethnically diverse than any generation before. They are truly the first digital natives, with the smart phone around them since birth. As the saying goes, “Today, 2-year-olds can unlock an iPhone, open and close their favorite apps all by themselves. When I was that age, I was eating dirt.” In fact, this generation cannot imagine life without the iPhone and the Internet.

Gen Zers are considered to have been born between 1995-2009, and comprises 27% of the U.S. population. This places the oldest Gen Zers as just joining the workforce and the youngest still in school. According to the Next Generation Report from Business Insider Intelligence, Gen Z will shortly become the largest consumer population in the U.S.; they are already estimated to influence $143 billion in spending in the US alone.

Having known social platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram all their lives, these young people are constantly connected online, and are therefore, constantly informed about what is going on in the world, especially all the inequalities and injustice across the world.

Research shows that this generation spends over 10 hours a day connecting to the Internet and social platforms. Says one Gen Zer, “I use Instagram, literally like a lifeline. It’s the first thing I look at when I wake up in the morning.” Therefore, Gen Z and social media are a powerful combination, making them the onlookers who see most of the game.

With social media providing endless opportunities to grow, learn, connect and build, Gen Zers are unafraid to speak truth to power, and the more corruption and wrongdoing they see, the more passionate and determined they become to change the status quo. Thus, Gen Z’s increased passion for charitable activities aimed at social change, is generally attributed to their long hours on social media.

Moreover, unlike the negative “Me Generation” image of millennials, Gen Z appears to be genuinely passionate about changing the world, with community consciousness a priority for them. Millennial and Gen Z expert in Texas, Jason Dorsey, said, “Everybody expects the generation to be simply a continuation, as if Gen Z is a more extreme example of millennials — that’s not true.”

One Gen Zer said, ““We care about our world. We care most about the humans in our world.”   Heading their list of priorities is human rights. During their lifetime, they will seek to eliminate slavery, sex trafficking, homelessness, poverty, and the senseless displacement of people from their native lands.

And so, it is hardly surprising that international thought leader, Beth Kanter, calls Gen Z “Philanthroteens” who want to go out in the real world and do something. She remarks, “Gen Z are the next generation of donors. They are tech-savvy and generous.”

Cassandra Report, headquartered in New York, and distinguished as an authority on Millennials and Gen Z, leading studies of emerging trends, generational insights, and youth behavior, recently reported that nearly half of teenagers in the UK and the US want to volunteer, while 32% have already donated money and just over one in 10 want to start a charity.

This symbolizes the fact that Gen Z does not consider it enough to just post and share thoughts about the causes they believe in. They are making their beliefs become reality by putting dollars into the causes. As Facebook research explains, “This generation often puts aside its differences and rallies around causes that will benefit the greater good. (They expect) brands to do the same—to live their own values and to offer value. In fact, 68% of Gen Zers expect brands to contribute to society.”

Among the issues that Gen Z is most vocal about is sustainable consumption and climate change. A recent Forbes report found that  62% of Gen Z, prefer to buy from sustainable brands, and they support sustainably sourced materials, recycling and re-use initiatives in manufacturing. They are, in fact, shaming earlier generations who consumed like there is no tomorrow and behaved as though the earth’s resources are endless.

This concern for a clean and livable planet is at the heart of Gen Z’s concern about climate change, which they demonstrated recently on a global platform. The Global Climate Strike from September 20-27, 2019, was a forceful reminder to older generations they need to change their wasteful habits of frittering away precious resources. 

It was initiated by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist who skipped school and protested at the Swedish parliament, demanding political action on climate change. The Global Climate Strike protests took place across 4,500 locations in 150 countries, with an estimated 6 million people participating across the globe, considered the largest global climate demonstration in history.

What added impetus to the protests was the passionate conversation on the protests as reports and articles were shared on social media platforms. Moreover, the urgency Gen Z brought to the debate focused on large corporations and politicians, many of who are not just adding to the problem, but also standing in the way of solutions.

And so, the world is seeing in action, the “Be Yourself” philosophy of a generation yearning for action on real issues affecting all communities of the world, demanding that older generations see life as it really is, and not through rose-tinted glasses focused on wealth, beauty and popularity.

As Kayla Sredni, Strategist at the international innovation consultancy, R/GA, says, ““[B]rands need to take these kids seriously. Teens don’t feel like they have a platform to voice their thoughts, so they’ve created their own. If brands can legitimize their feelings, and give them a place to discuss hard-hitting topics, they will win the love and support of this age group.”


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