Politically Informed Teens
Young people are often accused of being apolitical, but recent youth initiatives have proved otherwise. There is a palpable rise in well-prepared and continuous teenage activism, especially within the realm of climate change. Whether or not this is due to the fact that they will bear the direct cost of climate erosion, they are definitely becoming a real part of the change. Driven by observations, fervour, and the desire to see a difference, Gen Z changemakers have begun to use the greatest weapon at their disposal to enact change and raise awareness on a global scale: social media. Instagram, especially, has been a valuable tool to incite global action: with the prevalence of hashtags and 24 hour Instagram stories, it is not difficult to keep up (quite intimately, for that matter) with socio-political situations halfway across the world. More than keeping up, it is also simple to replicate.
For example: I see a movement in France > I like it > I want to adopt it in Singapore > I create a similar Instagram account for my country and tailor the content > My country is immediately in on the movement. Instagram makes it very simple for people to be aware and involved, no matter where they might be in the world.
Fridays For Future is a movement started by 16 year old Greta Thunberg whose Instagram account has since been verified. She rapidly rose to prominence in August 2018 for starting the first school strike for the climate outside the Swedish Parliament Building. And we aren’t kidding when we say rapid.
This is a chart reflecting her audience growth over just this year. Her follower rate has increased at an average of 209.77% since she started out, and she now has close to 1M followers on Instagram. That is a growth rate that gives most, if not all, burgeoning Netflix stars a run for their money.
As mentioned earlier, the significant (and unique) thing about Instagram activism is it’s sheer ability to reach a global audience within seconds. This brings us to our second impressive statistic:
Despite only being ‘active’ for less than 6 months, Gretha already has quite a diverse following on her personal Instagram account. She has an impressive international audience, with followers almost all over Europe and the United States. In addition, a good 60% of her audience is aged between 18-25 (20% each from 18-25, 25-35, 35-45), meaning that she is addressing an audience far older than her. Which is perfect. While millennials have drive and ideas, older people have power.
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Incredible turnout today!! According to 350.org we have already passed way over one million students on school strike for the climate today. In over 2000 places in 125 countries on all continents. And we have only just started!! #fridaysforfuture #schoolstrike4climate #climatestrike ( picture from Prague, Czech Republic)
This is Greta’s top performing post of 2019. It is impressive not just because it garnered a 28% engagement rate, which is significantly higher than her usual average of 8.63% BUT, because of the other numbers cited in the caption. 1 million students, 2000 places, and 125 countries. That is the kind of reach and influence a 16 year old with 1 goal and 0 existing political clout can attain with the help of Instagram.
Let’s move on to look at the Fridays For Future global account. This account has far less followers than Greta herself, which is understandable since it is a very new, purely business account.
Crunching the numbers on our platform, however, tells us that the account has experienced a 644.53% growth rate in February 2019, and a 323.71% growth rate in March 2019 (and the month isn’t even over yet!). People took to this initiative very quickly even though it started from nothing — evident from the ‘0’ starting point on the graph — and used this as a basis to start country-specific accounts.
There are now more than 44 Fridays For Future accounts worldwide.
Here is a screenshot of what the first scroll through a search of “fridaysforfuture” looks like. Some of them are places I haven’t even heard of.
A similar, climate-related movement was founded in Bali 6 years ago by sisters Melati and Isabel, who are now 18 and 16 years old. @byebyeplasticbags is another remarkable youth-driven NGO that, as the title suggests, aimed to ban plastic bags in Bali. This target was reached in January 2019.
Bye Bye Plastic Bags did not grow as fast as Fridays for Future, possibly because they came about in 2013, when Instagram wasn’t the social media moghul it is today. Nevertheless, their follower count has been steadily increasing, and here is what it has looked like since January 2019.
They have gained at least 10,000 followers over the last 3 months and there is even a Singapore faction of this movement. Like Fridays For Future, BBPB has a wide global reach, including countries in Europe and America, as seen in the chart below.
More than 50% of the followers on this account are also aged above 25.
But the Singaporean climate changemaker I’d like to focus on is @nocarrierpls. Rachel’s following grew fairly quickly in quite a short amount of time, so we could not generate any data on her audience growth rate, but with 3.4K followers, she is doing really well for an environmental activist with wordy captions and unfiltered images in an age where instant gratification and ‘aesthetic feeds’ are unfortunately a win. The average engagement rate on her posts is 9.31%, which is more than double the average engagement rate of accounts in Singapore with less than 50K followers.
Here is Rachel’s top performing post of 2019:
She tackles a hard-hitting topic about hypocrisy and judgment in the green movement — climate activists are not infallible and yes, they use plastic sometimes! — in less than 2,200 characters. Her argument is relevant, readable, and waffles are always a great attention grabber.
Being a student in Singapore, it is natural that the majority of her followers are fellow Singaporeans. That being said, she does still have a notable reach in Southeast Asia.
The little, coloured slices on the chart tell us that Rachel is also speaking to people in Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and China. She could very well be a remarkable voice for the region.
Rachel, much like the girls behind Bye Bye Plastic Bags and Fridays for Future, has learnt to use Instagram to her advantage. And it serving them all well.
Instagram does have the power to change the world. And so do young women. I felt incredibly humbled reading about, and scouring through the Instagram feeds that these various women so painstakingly manage. Be they tips, information, or simple thank you’s to the people who try to emulate their examples and make a difference, these women make sure they listen and are listened to.
There is a lot of potential in what social media can achieve. The more accounts like this pop up and plaster our feeds, the less we can run away from the biting reality of our climate, and other pressing social issues. I’m proud of the Gen Z voices. It really isn’t too late to turn things around. Take a look at their accounts and see what you can do: big and small.