GenZ Is Up Against Some Pretty Extreme Propaganda

Composite+image+by+the+author.

Heaven Golladay

Composite image by the author.

Heaven Golladay, Science/Tech Editor

There is a rising issue with Gen Z being exposed to, and (some say) radicalized by, propaganda via social media. According to the Pew Research Center, an overwhelming majority (97%) of Gen Z uses at least one major social platform, and 89% claim they do daily. The amount of information that one might be exposed to would be hard to determine, but the validity/true intentions of said information would be even harder.  

In the early days of the 2020 quarantine, a time where most were stuck inside and isolated, plenty of teens turned to social media to satisfy their need for both entertainment and connection. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, more publicized murders of black Americans, the economy crashing, and other simultaneous disasters, social media was not just a simple reflection of the angry and tired state of the world, but an amplification of it.

It has been the perfect storm for Generation Z, a generation native to the internet, and it would seem, to social and political activism. I contacted one activist account @genzinform (KIA’I HAWAI’I) on Instagram to discuss our generation’s relationship with social media advocacy. The person behind the account, Celena B., a teenager, had this to say:

“As […] BLM, climate change, and so many other social movements [occurred] Gen Z has realized that we’re privileged to have social media as an outlet. Gen Z is more involved [in] these events because our future depends on the choices we make now. Those who lead need to make the right decisions.” 

This quote alone shows the complex view the ‘Zoomer’ generation has on national and international problems. It’s pretty clear from even just a general sampling of content that young people post or share, that this generation feels a social responsibility for the future and views social media as a both a tool that can have power, and as their preferred mode of communication. Many, like is necessary in a world where the world leaders are seemingly out of touch and more than quadruple their ages.

However, what happens when a platform is abused?

It only takes one frightening internet search to view some of the radical posts from people that are no older than 25 and have a target audience of the same range. This feeling of social responsibility mixed with the exposure to radical ideas while still so impressionable has created a mass storm of teenagers who encourage their peers to have what many older people would call radical ideals. 

Samples of extreme propaganda posted on accounts of young people. Composite image by author. (Heaven Golladay)

Previously, @genzinform spoke on the issue stating, “It is concerning to see the vast majority of children, teens, and adults […] spread false information that can alter our view on things and can affect our future” and again, “Troll accounts, […] memes, and misinformation can spread to the target audiences. As of Tiktok, Twitter, and Instagram; many see these social media platforms as reliable information without researching by themselves.”

When you click on the followers of these radical pages that call for violent revolutions, racially segregated nations, and even imply the need for genocide, it won’t be hard to find some kids who cannot be older than 11. Though most social media sites require young people to be at least 13 to make an account, this is rarely (if ever) enforced. This is the sad reality of the accessibility of our time. 

How Can We Stop the Spread of Radicalization?

It starts with getting proper information. However, the dangers of what are considered “proper” can cause such slippery slopes as seen above. Many young people do not “follow” actual media organizations at all, either because they consider them old-fashioned (or just boring), or because they lack the training necessary to know what organizations are credible and worth following. This is a problem because even if those organizations are sometimes biased, they at least have reporters and fact checkers and editors vetting the information they distribute.

When I asked Celena B. how they try to provide consistently good information, they said, “Some guidelines I would use in creating my info-graphs [are] using a variety of different sources. Seeing different point[s] of view helps with being unbiased.”

The gold standard currently is the Associated Press (AP), a global news provider, who for decades have been focused on a “just the facts” approach. They currently sit on top of the Media Bias Chart (sample below), published by Ad Fontes Media to deal with the problem of what they call “junk news.”

It is important to remember that nearly every source for change views similar issues, but have different ways of solving problems, or even reporting on them. The internet can be a great and efficient way to receive news, however that is only if the information is validated somehow, or if you take the time to view different sides of the same argument. 

The other trap is one that adults have trouble with too: the “echo chamber,” where you only consume media from people who already think like you. Totally avoiding exposure to “the other side” doesn’t make you better informed.

Pages like the heavily quoted @genzinform, as well as @proj.empower, and @bothsidesapp could help young people be more involved without having isolated (biased) information. 

The internet is a fantastic place and having a generation seemingly more politically inclined than ever is exciting! Having access to share your individual opinion to the world is a great opportunity that Gen Z certainly won’t waste.