Technology & Science·THE WEEKLY

'How dare you!': Young activists are harnessing the power of social media to capture the world's attention

The Weekly with Wendy Mesley looks at just how powerful social media is for young activists to rally support for their causes

Climate activists are making a lot of noise with their advocacy, but social media is helping them get louder

Youth march in a climate strike march in Montreal on Friday. (Reuters/Andrej Ivanov)

In just one year, Greta Thunberg went from being one lonely demonstrator stationed outside the Swedish parliament to a climate star joined by hundreds of thousands of people in cities worldwide. 

Seattle youth activist Jamie Margolin, 17, testified before United States' lawmakers alongside Thunberg this week. Like Thunberg, she too started small. Margolin started organizing climate rallies about a year ago with other young activists under the hashtag #ThisIsZeroHour. 

In her senior high school year, Parkland shooting survivor Leonor Muñoz and her classmates spearheaded numerous demonstrations after their hashtag #MarchForOurLives went viral. Since then, a number of gun control laws have been passed across U.S., but mostly at the state level. 

During the 1960s, flower power was used by anti-war demonstrators to get their message across, but the current young generation has more than just an image and a message — they've got social media, and they are masters at putting it to work. 

The platform has existed for about half of this generation's lifetime, allowing them to have a unique fluency older people lack, explained Buzzfeed News curation editor and Party Lines podcast host Elamin Abdelmahmoud.

"You have to imagine that social media is shaping their lives in a different way than it is shaping ours," he said.

Here are two moments of youth activism going viral:

They're grabbing the agenda and forcing politicians, the mainstream media, and adults in general to pay attention.

"We know how to post at the right times, get hashtags trending, get people involved," said Muñoz. "We know social media and we know its limits."

'Emperor has no clothes'

Social media's power to connect high volumes of people comes from its accessibility. Posts are able to be made and viewed in real-time, reactions can be publicly seen.

"Everyone else could see that so much easier than they could ages before," Abdelmahmoud said. "I think that kind of changes the quality of the message."  

But he said while the quality of the conversation has shifted, the protests have yet to make the political impact they want.

Watch: Wendy Mesley speaks with Parkland shooting survivor Leonor Muñoz and youth climate activist Jamie Margolin

Wendy Mesley speaks with Parkland shooting survivor Leonor Munoz and youth climate activist Jamie Margolin. 0:45

"For now, politically, no, they're not having results because it's still mostly older white men who are in control of most of the policies that they want to change."

But as Muñoz sees it, politicians are feeling the pressure and that message is spreading. 

"We've realized the emperor has no clothes and more important than that, we realize that for us, our silence will not protect us." 

And they're not about to stop now. 

"We're really making momentum and politicians are now really feeling the pressure that they have really two options. Either be a climate champion or get out," said Margolin.