Written by Nimue Wafiya
A humble businessman from the New World once said, “Telling a teenager the facts of life is like giving a fish a bath”. Arnold H. Glasow belonged to a meagre but burgeoning percentage of the adult population who can truly say that they place their faith in the youth – or at least acknowledge their keen eye for life’s harsh realities. It’s known that the youth of today are more well-informed than ever, what with the multitude of news-sharing platforms available to anyone with access to the Internet (55% of the population, by the way).
Besides sharing a warped, evolved sense of humor (if you know, you know), the kids of today are using social media to bring about change. Take the advent of the Internet’s favorite waffle of discovery, the hashtag, for example.
Five hashtags that have been trending on Western Twitter lately: #FridaysForFuture is forcing authoritative bodies to save the planet; #BlackLivesMatter sheds light on the injustice suffered by African Americans within a flawed legal system (I recommend watching Ava Duvernay’s documentary 13th on Netflix for more information); #MeToo fights sexual assault and sexual harassment; #MarchForOurLives advocates for more gun control so children don’t fear for their lives every day in school; and #LoveWins celebrates the accomplishment of marriage equality and LBTGQ+ love in general.
As loud as these hashtags have become, it does beg the question of how effective they really are. ‘Slacktivism’ is a term coined by Dwight Ozard and Fred Clark, a pejorative term for “feel-good” measures in support of an issue or social cause; more to boost the egos of participants than to actually contribute to the issues at hand. Moreover, it is seen as a form of distraction that thwarts real change. While there’s no doubt this exists, I’d argue it hurts society more to discredit social activism online as a whole, especially for the children out there who are already holding on tight to the megaphone that is social media.
It serves us to analyse a current trending topic:
Latest to top Twitter’s trending list is #FridaysForFuture. Fronted by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden, this movement to abate the disastrous effects of climate change began with the youth and is being sustained by the youth. Since August of 2018, Greta Thunberg has been skipping classes to sit outside the Swedish parliament every Friday to push her message of climate change. Her individual effort transformed into a global one when news of #FridaysForFuture travelled to kindred spirits all over the world – thousands are doing the same in Germany, Belgium, the UK, France, Australia and Japan.
As much as I’d like to go on and on about Greta’s amazing industry (the fact that she’s being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize says it all), this article aims to drive upon a singular fact: the speed of the Internet and Twitter was necessary for Greta’s message to reach all the countries previously mentioned because climate change is a time-sensitive issue – so Twitter can maybe just be… saving Earth?
Western media can sometimes be this giant skyscraper in the city, casting a shadow over other regions. While we can learn multitudes from it, we can learn just as much, if not more, from knowing what goes on on our soil.
The staggering results of the 14th General Election (GE14) in Malaysia was largely credited to the high voter turnout of young people (aged between 21 to 39 years old) who formed the majority of registered voters; with high cost of living, high unemployment and low income as tenets for action. If you’re not familiar with Malaysian politics, what happened was that the opposition party won the general elections in 2018 for the first time since our nation’s independence, after a whopping 61 years.
According to The Malaysian Insight, social media played a huge role in GE14, as personalised election campaigns online were big indicators of real-life success. Based on Dr Mohd Faizal Kasmani’s findings, 27.2% of posts on Twitter were pro-PH, compared with just 10.5% pro-BN. By digital design, Twitter had already announced the winner of GE14 before the SPR itself, and I don’t need to be the one to tell you which age group frequents this site the most.
SPR – The Election Commission of Malaysia, abbreviated SPR or EC, is a commission set up for the purpose of ensuring fair and equitable operations in undertaking the Malaysian General Elections.
BN – Barisan Nasional: political coalition in Malaysia that was founded in 1973 as a coalition of right-wing and centrist parties. They are, as of 2018, the largest opposition coalition in the country’s Dewan Rakyat.
PH – Pakatan Harapan: political coalition in Malaysia; established in 2015 as an opposition to the former-ruling Barisan Nasional.]
Early January 2018, the #MeToo hashtag was rife with news of the USA gymnastics team. Larry Nassar, the national team doctor, was in the middle of receiving his prison sentence for sexually assaulting over 150 victims throughout his career.
In light of this movement, a few young, brave souls from Kuala Lumpur came forward as well with their own distressing experiences around the same time. A number of high school debaters around Kuala Lumpur made their case against their debate coach public by sharing their stories on Instagram and Twitter. The students, all male, reported instances where they were molested and/or sent inappropriate text messages by their coach.
It would benefit us to acknowledge here that while news of this was circulating on social media, it was met with heartwarming messages from supporters of the victims and served as a warning to parents, teachers and students alike of the many vices lurking within even the most sophisticated of institutions.
The Malaysian Institute for Debate & Public Speaking (MIDP), the workplace of the accused, has released a statement on Facebook describing the details of this case. The last update mentioned that police investigations were being carried out and that the predator had been sacked.
Malaysia: End Child Marriage
For a quick refresher, Malaysia has a dual legal system, which means that the minimum age of marriage can be determined by either civil law or Syariah (Islamic) law. Non-muslims may only wed if they are aged 18 or older (girls at 16 provided they or their parents have the permission of the State Chief Minister). For Muslims, boys are allowed to marry at 18 years of age and girls at 16. However, with approval from the Islamic court, Muslim girls and boys can marry at a much younger age to possibly much older partners.
In October 2018, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad issued a directive ordering all state governments in Malaysia to raise the legal minimum marriage age to 18 years for non-Muslims and Muslims. Unfortunately, as of March 2019, it has been reported that two out of thirteen states, namely Kelantan and Terengganu have continued allowing child marriage to take place, with Kelantan justifying their decision by calling this practice a “necessity”.
Such a clear and simple directive, when brought down to the state government and Islamic court, becomes a fuzz of compliance (or lack thereof). It has been said that the directive, due to ambiguous standard operating procedures (SOPs) and conflict with Islamic teachings, is seeing delays and outright rejections in proper implementation at the state level. Due to slack follow-ups by the authorities regarding this directive, most state governments have ignored their duty in enforcing this new amendment even after what is currently six whole months to adjust to change. It is becoming more and more clear that the only way to approach child marriage is to ban it entirely, and with force.
Under the hashtags #NoBridesUnder18 and #HentikanPerkahwinanBawah18, you can see the young leaders from Girls Guide Association Malaysia fighting the aforementioned fight online and offline to completely ban child marriage in Malaysia. After attending local political graphic designer Fahmi Reza’s poster workshop, these empowered girls took to the Internet to share their products.
While their goal is yet to be achieved, it is comforting to know that #NoBridesUnder18 and #HentikanPerkahwinanBawah18 has become a brand in our minds, a constant reminder to keep our laws in check as it does us.
Social media is the youth’s tool for empowerment. Without it, many critical movements would have either fallen flat or progressed at too slow of a rate to be of real help.
If you don’t yet feel comfortable voicing your opinions online or have long ago decided not to at all (“I’m not that type of person.”), I highly suggest you try your hand anyway at participating in social movements (and to be nice while you’re at it).
Ultimately, the ability to be politically apathetic is really only possible when you’re in a position of privilege – for many oppressed, underrepresented groups, “not caring” simply isn’t an option. Therefore, isn’t it up to us to utilise that privilege wisely and fight for those who can’t?
“Okay, but here’s the thing…what if I have nothing to say? I don’t even know where to start.”
For starters, it’s good to be honest about your own ignorance. In fact, honesty and authenticity should be the two main characteristics to have while developing an online presence (and doing anything else, really). And the truth is, contributing to social movements might not be as complicated as you’d think.
A big first step to truly contribute to issues is to be well-educated about them in the first place – frankly, it’s often 90% of participation. After seeing the same topic on your timeline again and again, you might be tempted to give the opinion already manifested in your mind. But before you move that cursor, it would benefit everyone for you to read up and make sure that what you’re saying lines up with what is actually going on.
Having something worth saying is a muscle to exercise, I agree, so thank God there are other buttons besides reply and tweet. Simply liking or retweeting a promising post sometimes already helps boost the voices of those with important things to say, and makes you an invaluable participant – also, I think you’ll find that after a few visits to sites like Twitter and its appetizingly succinct users’ way of providing information, you might just gain the confidence to share your slice of the world too.
In the end, all I really hope to see is more young people making a difference via the platforms that have become second nature to them. Remember that some of the previously mentioned movements have yet to fully attain the goals they are trying to reach, and could always benefit from another member of society.
So, thanks for tuning in, now it’s your turn to write.