It’s clear that the presence of social media has changed our lives dramatically, and even more so for millennials, the largest demographic audience. Through this article, Hillary Bakrie, a graduate student studying global affairs at NYU, urges readers to use social media platforms to promote awareness and dialogues on pressing issues of today.
Last week I had the chance to talk in a panel at my alma mater, New York University (NYU). The theme of the night was “Youth and Peacebuilding — A Reflection from the Field” and I just recently shared my thoughts on young people’s potential on becoming agents of peace. Shortly after our presentation, a young man from Afghanistan raised his hand and addressed a question specifically to me: “What do you think about social media content which often provoke conflict, like fake news or posts about extremism?” I paused for a while as I realize there’s a great chance that he has seen the outcome of these more than I ever had, and then somewhere along the lines of my 2-minute answer, I said: “I think at the end, it all goes down to what you choose to do.”
If I had an extra minute, I would have told him the one thing I want to tell all the young people out there: as the youth, we often underestimate the choices we make online. As a millennial myself I used to post, scroll, and swipe carelessly on my social media channels. Little did I realize how I’ve been underestimating the power that my hands hold when I type a tweet or a caption for my Instagram post. Our online actions have the capability to shape the world we live in today and we often forget to quantify our role in it.
Every month Indonesia has 130 million active users on Facebook and 53 million on Instagram, which means almost every day at least 50 million Indonesians are getting exposed to the various content being shared online. Young people (defined as people between the ages of 13-34) hold the biggest bracket of social media users in Indonesia, therefore there’s a good chance that millions of people are seeing the content that is made by young Indonesians. For example, my Instagram analytic insights told me that for 1 picture that I post I could reach an average of 4,870 people. That means for every caption that I make—every content that I created, they can be seen by 4,000 other people that might not even know me in the first place. Such a big number for the cost of one selfie, right?
It wasn’t until I processed these numbers in my mind that I realize how I’ve been underestimating my online choices, the ones I made and ones I did not. If I choose to casually scroll through a post that features violence instead of reporting it then I would enable it to reach hundreds of people; if I chose to post about hatred in my captions then I would have given ways for discriminations to grow. Just like most people, I’m often oblivious about the consequences of my online actions. But what happens when you consciously promote good ideas? The quantification of my social media posts has made realize that if I decide to use my platform promote peace, then there’s a good chance 4,000 people can be exposed to it—and that’s what I did.
I began using my website, LinkedIn, and Instagram to promote #PostforPeace, a visual journal that discusses peacebuilding efforts through various methods. It has been such a great privilege to study at a renowned university such as NYU and I use this platform to share the theories I learned in classes and the observations I have made in the field to my online audience. The responses I received was heartwarming; strangers and friends with different jobs and academic interests reached out to me to say they had no idea that their line of work could contribute to peace somehow.
From there, my online advocacy continues. I began to spend more time writing up each caption and making sure that if anyone is reading it, then they would be exposed to issues that our community is facing. It wasn’t always smooth and easy since most of the time I had to discuss issues I rarely discuss in public. There was a time when I wanted to raise the issue of ethnic discrimination and remembered how I shivered a little right before I posted, but then I realized if it was hard enough for me to talk about this, imagine how hard that would be for other people who experienced it first hand?
I think that’s the real power right there. Social media is just a way to amplify your decision but in the end, you hold the key to drive changes or ignore them. It’s never easy and sometimes the right thing to do is not always the most convenient. So, the next time you are posting something on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, think about the scope of your reach. There are 4,000 other millennials out there waiting for your good ideas to reach them.
Photos provided by author.