A survey by the Higher Education Research Program found that American college freshmen of the 2015–2016 school year are showing signs of greater interest in student activism and political engagement. According to the findings, student protests and demonstrations have reached their highest levels since the creation of the survey in 1967.
I can imagine that much of these developments are attributed to the emergence of social media; I don’t believe that students would be as actively involved in politics without the prevalence of these relatively new technologies. Sites like Facebook were once considered a means of personal connection, but now they’ve evolved into sources of information and ideas for many users. Almost daily, I’ve personally witnessed different political and social debates flooding social media in the form of status updates, articles, and videos.
These developments are changing the way our society and young people in particular communicate on social media, because these sites, which are used for socializing, now provide information beyond simply connecting with old friends.
Furthermore, having the ability to view the presidential debates and read about world news on smartphones has made it difficult for young people to ignore these stories and events. Presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders seem to be actively seeking the votes of college students by making campaign promises to provide affordable education and lower student loan interest rates by communicating these promises through social media channels.
By making such statements, many presidential candidates are recognizing the impact that the young vote can have and are consequently catering to a younger audience.
The sudden increase in student protests and activism has probably had ties with different social conflicts and perceptions of social injustices in American society; throughout history, protesters have wielded immense influence in the changing of laws and social norms.
What I believe has changed is the rate at which we receive information and the multiplication of ways in which we can express our views for the world to see on platforms like social media.
Artist Kendrick Lamar gave a powerful political message about the relationship between police and the black community at the Grammy’s that made an immediate impact on conversations on Twitter, and was even complimented on his performance by the White House.
Stories like these show that today’s college students and social media users are actively involved in not only talking about change, but playing an active role in the social and political changes that are being made.