Millennial politics have different platforms

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Kristina Wyman's picture
Lee Ann Pelletier

The way people observe politics has drastically changed with social media. The children of the Baby Boomer generation and Generation X have a completely different platform to share their political ideas.

The Millennial generation does not have a specific period where it starts and ends but is mostly agreed upon as beginning in the 1980s to early 2000s. They are the first generation to come of age in the new millennium and have been called everything from the most helpful generation to the most narcissistic.

The political experiences of Millennials are completely tied in with their newsfeed on Facebook or updates from Twitter. Articles and multiple viewpoints on a topic are so easily tangible that it can seem completely reasonable to expect Millennials to be well informed. However, they are also easily distracted, do not always fact-check and even the definition of “politically active” has seemed to change.

In the past, being politically aware meant getting information from television and newspapers or listening to politicians when they would “stump” or stop in your state. Being politically active meant going out in public, like with the sit-ins at segregated restaurants during the Civil Rights Movement. Members in the movement had to be trained before they would be allowed to participate since they could not react violently to any insults or attacks. Political activism required public commitment that could sometimes be dangerous.

The internet has changed that. While there are still public demonstrations—such as the recent shutdown of a Donald Trump appearance at the University of Illinois in Chicago by black, Latino and Muslim students—most of the political activism by Millennials seems to take place online. This causes a certain laziness in checking the validity of arguments. A screenshot of a controversial headline is shared on Instagram, without even reading the article. Twitter posts can cause panic without even being true, like the threats at University of Missouri in November of 2015.

An anonymous YikYak post saying, “I’m going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see,” caused panic across campus. Students began protesting, and Twitter rallied against professors who wouldn’t cancel the next day’s class.

Student Body President, Payton Head, wrote on his Facebook page, “Stay away from the windows in residence halls. The KKK has been confirmed to be sighted on campus,” and he claimed that he was working with Campus Police and the National Guard.

Head deleted his post and apologized for it after a police spokesman said the KKK was not on campus and the National Guard had not even been called.

So how did this happen? African-American students at the University of Missouri have long complained about racism on the mostly white campus. The overwhelming amount of fake pictures and scary updates that suddenly saturated social media put the school into a frenzy that was hard to quell. Once the posts started showing up, it was hard to contradict them or tell students not to be concerned.

The initial threat on YikYak was expected to have come from a student at the University since the app operates in a five mile radius. However, police found the author Hunter M. Park more than 90 miles south in Rolla, according to CNN.

So while the hundreds of people who shared the Tweets and statuses were just trying to keep the people around them safe, it was very difficult to fact-check the original sources when so many people had already assumed there was a true threat.

However, the uniquely personal perspective of Millennial politics is not always a disadvantage. In 2014, after unarmed 18 year-old Mike Brown was killed by police, Ferguson, Missouri erupted in riots. Initially, reporters were confined to a “press pen” away from the riots, restricting information that television programs could obtain. A total of 19 journalists were arrested for covering the unrest.

Meanwhile, social media exploded with updates on the riots. Pictures could be taken from phones and instantly uploaded online. Activists could describe their first-hand experiences with zero censorship.

So while Millennials use social media to pass on a meme about Bernie Sanders and call it political involvement, they also use the internet to organize and gather unique perspectives on controversial events. While the in-person commitment to a cause required during the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War certainly doesn’t exist anymore, Millennials have a platform like no other to develop their ideas.

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