Building teen's civic toolbox – Part 3: Using social media to spark change

A 4-Her’s take on using your voice, profile and digital platforms to make a positive impact on the world around you.

Loren King representing the state of Michigan at the 2014 World Food Prize Global Youth Institute.
Loren King representing the state of Michigan at the 2014 World Food Prize Global Youth Institute.

Social media has infiltrated our day-to-day lives. There is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Tumblr, Flickr, Swarm, Snapchat and the list goes on. The way we build and maintain relationships, share exciting news, receive feedback from our peers and even stay up to date on the goings on globally all are shaped by social media. In contrast to the traditional phone calls, letters and newspaper reading, social media provides a space where users can engage and interact with content and each other. Photographs and videos of experiences are public with just a click, and key social topics start “trending” via hashtags and shares. On Feb. 1, 2016, a poll that was tweeted by Kim Kardashian received more votes than the Iowa Presidential Primary caucus that was held the same day. With this increase in access to information and so many platforms for sharing our voice, why aren’t more efforts made to create positive change in communities via these platforms?

Loren King is a 4-H member from St. Joseph County, Michigan, whom I first met at Michigan State University Extension’s 4-H Capitol Experience in 2014 where he was a youth participant. Since my first encounter with Loren, I have watched him take advantage of the learning opportunities 4-H offers, such as program steering committees, trainings and serving on the Michigan 4-H State Youth Leadership Council. Loren has even come as far as facilitating his own trainings at 4-H leadership events. At the 2016 4-H Youth Leadership and Global Citizenship Spectacular, Loren proposed and facilitated a session for other teens and adults called “#MakeMediaMatter.” In this session, Loren shared his knowledge and experience using social media as a tool to engage in dialogue, share positive messages, inspire others and ultimately ignite change. Here are some thoughts from Loren:

Makena (M): As a young person, why do you feel it is important to be civically involved?

Loren (L): I feel it is important for my generation to use our voice in civic events as we will be inheriting the future and will be living with the results of what happens today in political events.

M: How do you think teen’s familiarity with social media and today's technological trends can help them be involved?

L: Our familiarity with social media and technology provides us the opportunity to make our voice heard in more than the voting booth. Today, Twitter trends dictate what issues candidates talk about in debates, and a viral Facebook post can redirect an entire primary.

M: Have you used social media to spark change or engage in civic dialogue with others? If not, do you have a favorite example of others?

L: I personally have led an initiative with my FFA chapter on getting more involved with larger corporations and agriculture groups so our voice could be heard. We created a Twitter account and started to engage companies such as Elanco and Culvers, leading to responses and recognition for some of our biggest programs.

M: Do you have any advice, tool or tips for other youth who might want to use their social media accounts to create change but don't know how?

L: Focus on creating eye-catching content. You don't have to post something every day, instead you should be focusing on presenting something in a way it's not normally viewed. Short videos and pictures from interesting angles work best. Above all, make sure it's unique to you. No ideas are without merit, so try whatever crazy thing you think of. The world will listen.

When you see the youth in your life on their mobile devices posting and sharing on social media, remind them there is a lot of power behind their posts. Remind them that their voice matters, and social media creates spaces where many people are clued into their values and perspective instantaneously. Help your youth understand that, like Loren, they can use their voices, profiles and platforms to make a positive impact on the world around them.

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