Understanding Gen Z

How Gen Z Engages in Activism Online

Contributions by Julie Lammers

Today’s young people are socially aware and want to take a more active role in the conversations that will shape their futures. Following up on my initial article on what ASA has learned about how Gen Z engages in advocacy, this second piece looks at how Gen Z engages in activism on social media, as well as what platforms Gen Z uses to learn about social movements. These insights are based on surveys conducted with more than 500 teens in middle and high school from January through June of 2022.

Here’s what we’ve learned:

Online, Gen Z follows their personal network and influencers to engage in advocacy. Specifically, 54% of Gen Z say they follow their friends and family to engage in advocacy, while 48% say they follow influencers. 

Gen Z engages in activism online more passively than actively. This is to say that larger proportions are doing lighter-touch behaviors (e.g., liking posts, following accounts) than more involved behaviors (e.g., signing petitions or donating). 51% of Gen Z are liking/commenting on posts, while 47% are following social media accounts that speak on the issues that are of interest to them, and 44% are following influencers to hear perspectives and points of view on various issues. Roughly the same proportions are engaging in what we consider more middle-level engagement: 46% are actively sharing content on their stories, and 48% are sending content to friends and family on issues they care about. However, nearly 1 in 3 members of Gen Z are taking more active steps to drive action in the issues important to them. This might mean taking steps to sign petitions (31%), chat with online communities (30%), or donate on websites (21%) to causes they care about.

Gen Z’s top platforms for learning about social movements are the same platforms they use for fun. Two-thirds of Gen Z are turning to YouTube (68%), Instagram (66%), and TikTok (62%) to learn about social movements and causes. In addition, 44% learn from the posts shared by their friends/families, and 37% learn via articles and blog posts.

Overall, for today’s youth, when it comes to their interest in advocacy online, it’s important to understand their primary resources, how they choose to engage, and the types of platforms they are leveraging. At ASA, we are passionate about working with kids to ensure they have the tools they need to shape their own futures, this not only includes exploration of education and career but how to be confident and effective advocates for themselves and the issues that matter most to them. 

What is clear is, the traditional media channels that many of us once relied on to get our information and participate in civil discourse are not the same channels used by Gen Z.  If we are to ensure younger generations continue to be civic minded and active, we need to use social media in new and creative ways to help them build the civic advocacy and self advocacy skills needed in all aspects of their adult lives. 

Stay tuned for my next piece on the perceptions and realities of teens’ activism. In the meantime, for more thought leadership and news on career readiness learning for young people, you can also peruse and subscribe to our newsletter, PivotED.