Why we should not underestimate social media youth

Last week I was overwhelmed by the volume of hatred that reeked from status updates, comments, and various memes, on my Facebook newsfeed.

The barrage of foul remarks and insulting photographs, mostly coming from my fellow teenagers, were aimed at reality show contestant Cess Visitacion.

Cess reacts to the online vilification during her guesting at the Aquino and Abunda Tonight. Photo from scoopboy.com

Cess reacts to the online vilification during her guesting at the Aquino and Abunda Tonight. Photo from scoopboy.com

Cess was given the axe at the local franchise of Big Brother after accumulating a serious number of house rule violations. Her eviction culminated a long week of name-calling and bashing on Facebook and Twitter, where she has been accused by rabid fans of being “double-faced” to her competitors and “whorish” in her dealings with a certain male housemate.

As mind-boggling as it was, it did not, however, surprise me. It has been the norm for quite some time now. The names of Paola Jamie “Amalayer” Salvosa and Deniece Cornejo also set the whole social media on fire not too long ago.

An example of the memes created during the height of the Vhong Navarro hullabaloo. Photo from irumorster.com

An example of the memes created during the height of the Vhong Navarro hullabaloo. Photo from irumorster.com

As much as it tells us something about how our culture perceives women, it also strikes a chord on the priorities and interests of many young people on the internet.

This is the social media as defined by the selfie-loving, slut-shaming Filipino youth—a virtual landfill of statements, memes, and photographs inspired by our profit-oriented media—suggesting a growing apathy among young people in the internet towards more important social issues.

Situations like this only magnify the lingering question that has been brought up by several people for a long time now—are the youth really the hope of our nation?

But it is also during these times when a certain hope flickers in me.

We may remember Padre Florentino, the virtuous secular priest who aided the dying Simoun until his last breath in El Filibusterismo. During the end of the novel, he yearned for a Filipino youth brimming with fiery enthusiasm and idealism that they will use for their country. Many scholars interpreted the popular monologue as the longing of the author, our national hero, for the same idealistic and untainted young Filipinos who will quash the oppressive system.

Social media presents numerous edges for us to transform from a gang of pop culture slaves and internet nuisances into the kind of youth that our national hero once called for—one of which is our large number.

According to the 2013 statistics released by Get Hooked 360, the number of Facebook users in the Philippines has risen to a staggering 30 million—55% of which belong to the 13-24 age bracket—signifying a relatively young netizenry.

Infographics from gethooked360.com

Infographics from gethooked360.com

On the other hand our country ranked tenth in terms of Twitter users in a list released by research company Semiocast last 2012, revealing that 9.5 million out of the total 517 million Twitter users were from the Philippines.

It did not also come as a surprise when two Philippine cities—Makati and Pasig—reigned supreme in Time Magazine’s ranking of world cities with the most number of selfie-takers.

Former Philippine Senate President Jovito Salonga in a 2005 article that he wrote for Living News and Good Education entitled “A Letter to the Filipino Youth of Today” cited examples in Philippine history where young people played pivotal roles to defend our country during some of its darkest days.

Few of the people that he mentioned were Jose Rizal who wrote the seminal novel Noli me Tangere and Andres Bonifacio who led the Katipunan both at the age of 26.

When the country was under martial law—a time when Facebook and Twitter were nonexistent—thousands of students actively joined protests and went into hiding in their struggle for democracy.

Maria Lorena Barros was one of the most fervent student activists during the Martial Law. She was killed during a military ambush at 28 years old. Photo from kiwizzo.tumblr.com

Maria Lorena Barros was one of the most fervent student activists during the Martial Law. She was killed during a military ambush at 28 years old. Photo from kiwizzo.tumblr.com

They fought even when it meant jeopardizing their safety as many of them were arrested, tortured, and killed while others just permanently disappeared.

Their sacrifices and love for country were part of the reason why we have the freedom to click and post whatever we want in our social media accounts today. These are just some of the things that most of them were not able to experience, while here we are today taking them for granted.

But with the advent of a technology that continues to break barriers and shrivel distances, we have a bigger advantage to turn things around.

A plethora of youth organizations have started to utilize social media to expand their respective projects. One Million Lights Philippines, the local arm of the California-based organization that aims to provide solar-powered lights to poor communities, has also used Facebook and Twitter to connect to a wider audience. Both of its spearheads, Mark Lozano and Tricia Peralta are teenagers—the former a student at De La Salle University and the latter at University of Pennsylvania. It is one of the many groups and organizations led by young people most of us may not have even heard of, but is keen on extending their presence to social media.

In the forthcoming 2016 elections, many of us will be eligible to exercise the right to suffrage and are thus expected to choose the next set of leaders with utmost judiciousness.

We must start realizing how big a power a status, a tweet, a selfie, or social media in general can have in affecting how we as a people elect our leaders, and in the process, changing the course of things in this country.

Yes we can launch hashtags at the top of the daily trending list to express our frustration over not having money to buy tickets for a boy band concert or anger against people on television who defy social conventions.

But we can also harness the same aversion for our crooked public officials, use those hashtags to demand justice, and convince people not to support or elect anyone of their kind in public offices anew.

Yes we can almost effortlessly flood others’ newsfeeds with tons of our selfies, and statuses about the food we eat, places we visit, and people we hang out with.

But we can also make these photos and statements even more personalized by utilizing them as means to voice out our personal convictions on various national and social issues.

Yes we can zealously support the endeavors of our favorite celebrities, petition for them to hold concerts in our country, and unflinchingly defend them from their critics online.

But we can also do the same to further meaningful advocacies, online petitions, and social movements initiated by unsung heroes which include people our age. We can even use our social media accounts to host our own advocacies.

We must envision social media as a vehicle that will transform us into the empowered and critically-thinking young men and women who will be in the forefront of eliminating the ills that have long plagued our country.

That it is a way to let people know that we may have slowed down but we haven’t forgotten. That we may love Daniel Padilla, One Direction, and fads that rarely last, but our ingrained love for our country, its long list of heroes and struggling people, will always be greater. That we may love selfies, but in our hearts there will always be a picture of us all united as one.

When we have reached this point, we would not anymore find the need to waste time on bullying people we barely know, or contribute to the thriving nonsense in the internet.

Not only would we get rid of those, but we would also emerge as the driving force behind a smarter and stronger society—both online and offline.

Photo from itsmegracee.blogspot.com

Photo from itsmegracee.blogspot.com

 

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About erwinagapay

A music and movie lover, aspiring author and filmmaker, and a junior student at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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