Posted on March 27, 2019 by Amal Wehbe
Young people are the largest users of the online world in this country, with 77% of young Australians (14-26) having some sort of social media account.
So obviously, we’re playing a pretty big role in the rapid growth of the online world 💁🏻♀️💁🏻♀️
But it sometimes seems like adults would rather speak about young people than hear from young people or work with us to tackle the issues that affect us most. There’s a lot of this action going on:
Leaving the most relevant group out of the conversation seems to have led to a general state of anxiousness regarding young people playing such an instrumental part in the online world.
This concern is understandable, in fact, completely valid.
The truth is, being online grants each of us a distinctive power to be able to enter people’s lives and create a profound impact. This power is not limited to individuals, but it extends to all stakeholders across society such as companies and even governments. Yup, as young people we are literate about the different ways that big and small players in this world use technology to create their own impact. This impact can be positive or negative and sometimes both.
So this general state of anxiousness stems from the fact that people can and do use the power of the online world to harm, manipulate, put down and spread hate. Because of this concern, I find that families, schools and governments desperately try to seperate the ‘online’ and the ‘offline’ world. It’s like somehow the misuse of power that we sometimes see on the internet could be quarantined to the online world, while keeping us safe offline – ‘in real life.’
The problem with this idea is that it assumes online and offline are disconnected. As though shutting off the ‘online world’ will mute the problems of the ‘offline world’ and vice versa.
The truth is, for most young Australians, this simply isn’t the case. What happens offline inevitably spills online and what we see online is acted on offline. So it is not that the online world is separate from the offline world, or that we can escape what we encounter online by slipping back into ‘real life,’ rather that they both co-exist, interacting with each other every day.
With such an intimate relationship between both worlds, it is vital to dissect the greatness of the power that we all possess as young people in the online world and look for ways that we can use our online power for good.
Young Aussies have continually demonstrated how amazing things can be accomplished when we are conscious about how we exercise the power that each of us has online. Some examples include hashtags used to bring awareness to certain social issues such as refugee rights (#ubelong), a Facebook page that organised a nationwide student walk out calling for climate action and online forums with young people connecting with each other in times of difficulty.
These examples aren’t used to be all ‘look what you can do!!!!’, but rather remind us, that we as young Australians are pretty awesome.
Young people can make the conversation more impactful because we are a part of the online world, which means that we have access to a wealth of knowledge, know how to connect with like minded people and find avenues of support that might not be available offline.
All of these resources then translate into the amazing examples discussed above, but also into smaller things. Sharing a positive ‘reach out’ post, finding a community through your passions and providing an individual with much needed support through a simple message.
What I’m trying to say is sure, the online world isn’t always great. Sometimes, it can be pretty scary. But as the digital life becomes increasingly present in the offline world, it is vital that now, more than ever, we shift our focus away from trying to protect young people from the online world. We shift our focus to the brilliance of technology, to the positive power it grants us. This will not only directly combat the negativity of online hate, but also play a part in slowly shaping ‘real life’ for the better and show that you can use your online power for good.
Amal Wehbe is a presenter at PROJECT ROCKIT, heading out into schools all over the country to empower young people to lead positive social change at school, online and beyond.