#YoungAndPowerful in the age of social media

By Josh
June 21, 2018

Josh is a member of Plan International USA’s Youth Advisory Board.

What has more computing power than the technology used to land on the moon, yet fits perfectly into the palm of a hand?

A smartphone.

We oftentimes take advantage of the power smartphones wield. From calculators and cameras, to navigation and note-taking, smartphones have made a tremendous impact on our daily lives. We can accomplish thousands of tasks in seconds, and yet nobody blinks an eye. Smartphones have become our third hands. Rarely do we give a second thought to the sheer power we carry around with us every day.

Technology can inspire, connect and empower. While it comes with an enormous host of challenges and concerns, it has proven an invaluable addition to our society. Social media platforms have created a more globally connected society. My Facebook friends list spans six continents and dozens of countries. Twitter notifies me of current events in Myanmar. Snapchat allows me to follow the lives of people in Thailand. And Instagram cultivates a feed of photos from Mozambique. Social media has made me more conscious of individuals and communities in the world around me.

But social media does more than raise awareness: It sparks action. Young people around the world use technology as a critical platform for activism, elevating local issues into matters of global importance.

Take Khadija Siddiqui, a law school student from Lahore, Pakistan. On May 3, 2016, Khadija was on her way to pick up her sister from school when she was stabbed 23 times by her classmate, Shah Hussein. He was initially sentenced to seven years in prison, but after an appeal process lasting more than two years, the Lahore High Court dismissed all charges against him, just days ago.

How did this story take off? Twitter.

#JusticeForKhadija went viral shortly after the acquittal. Celebrities and citizens alike have begun demanding justice. But without social media, Khadija’s story never would have gained traction. In fact, few of the stories we credit to sparking social movements would have entered the public conscience without technology.

Much of the charge to enact meaningful social change comes from young people. For us, a world without technology is nearly unimaginable. Considering that nearly half of the world’s population has access to the internet, there has never been a time of greater global connectivity.

Technology offers youth an innovative and multi-faceted platform to advocate for issues about which they are passionate. Young people are often handed second-class tickets in society: they are usually unable to vote, yet many policies in national debates directly impact their well-being. From national conversations about safe gun laws as a result of the Parkland shooting, to the #MeToo movement, young people are dominating the civic scene.

Engendering social change requires information, people and tools. Technology provides young people with all three: a global network of information spread amongst people across the world. Technology transcends socioeconomic and ethnic boundaries, creating platforms for cross-cultural dialogue.

Plan International is already making enormous strides to equip young people with the technical knowledge to become community leaders. The Youth Building the Future campaign provides information technology training to women in Brazil. The Digital Bus visits rural communities in Ecuador, exposing young people to a vast new world of technology. But if we want a future where every young person can participate in our digital world, we have to continue the fight for equal access to technology.

Because a simple smartphone has the power to change the world.