Significant Political Sentiment: Rise of Gen Zs: The growing influence of youth activism and social media in shaping politics.

  • 23 Jun 2024
  • 3 Mins Read
  • 〜 by James Ngunjiri

Hungry for change and often overlooked or engaged only as a formality, Generation Z (Gen Zs) is now showing a significant interest in political activism and is unafraid to challenge established systems and institutions. 

From June 18 to 20, a bold and new generation of youthful Kenyan protestors emerged on the streets of Nairobi and other major towns in the country, demonstrating against Finance Bill 2024. What started as anger on social media platforms morphed into a revolt without being organised by any political party.

Armed with smartphones instead of stones and other crude weapons, they live-streamed the intense confrontation with police officers in the protests labelled “occupy parliament”, which were well coordinated and mobilised on social media in contrast to protests usually led and funded by politicians.

Posters circulated with a code of conduct promoting non-violence, and they used humour to diffuse tension. There were even jokes about tear gas “flavours” – suggesting business opportunities. They applied creativity in the social media platforms. Additionally, lawyers arrived at the police stations early, ready to post bail, while water delivery comrades made rounds replenishing protestors’ water bottles.

According to the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), a registered charity and the largest independent social research institute in the UK, Gen Z have grown up in turbulent times, characterised by high-profile divisive issues such as climate change, austerity, and COVID-19, that have led to large and highly vocal protest movements.

These movements have often used civil disobedience and direct action to make political points. During their formative years, Gen Z witnessed protesters blocking roads, confronting politicians on social media, and marching to Parliament buildings.

NatCen’s annual Society Watch report, released in May 2024, dubbed “Society Watch 2024: Understanding the new generation of voters,” describes Gen Z as having divergent views about law and order from previous generations. “Much like their Baby Boomer grandparents in the 1960s, Gen Zs find themselves at odds with previous generations on personal freedoms, civil liberties, and the role of the government in their lives.”  

Additionally, the NatCen report states that Gen Z holds strong moral convictions, which they are willing to voice loudly and confidently. “They are willing to break laws they disagree with and make their voices heard through protests. They also take a liberal approach to personal freedoms on issues such as drug policy and tend not to support tough, punitive criminal justice policies.”

United States

In the US, during the 2020 presidential race, the youth vote mattered most and helped tip the scales for President Joe Biden. This year, though, things seem much less straightforward, polling data shows that President Biden’s approval rating has tanked among young Americans.   

Polls also show that Mr Biden continues to be hounded by the perception that he is too old for the job, and young activists are creating a public-relations nightmare for the campaign as they protest for more direct action on climate change and demand a permanent cease-fire in Gaza.   

South Africa

In South Africa’s just-concluded General Election, the country’s social media influencers, popular with the youth, stepped into a new role of political mobilisers. With 42 percent of registered voters under the age of 40, the younger demographic had a big role to play in the election, which upset the ruling ANC party.

Many young people in South Africa were concerned about jobs, poor service provision, and taxes and were willing to go against the grain in their political choices.

Influence of Social Media Platforms  

In an era dominated by the internet, social media platforms—X, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook—have created a formidable force in shaping the political landscape, particularly among Gen Z. These platforms are exceeding their original purpose of entertainment and are now becoming vital spaces for political discourse, education, and activism.

As Gen Z navigates the complexities of the modern world, social media platforms are serving as both amplifiers and classrooms, heightening their voices and expanding their understanding of local and global issues.

With the recent developments, the influence of social media on political engagements among Gen Z is undeniable. These platforms have broken barriers of information, democratised activism, and created a new generation of politically savvy individuals.

This generation is now moving from digital activism to real-world action, and their impact on the political landscape is expected to deepen.

However, experts argue that this power must come with responsibility. This is because the spread of misinformation is a challenge, and this underscores the need for critical media literacy among social media platform users.

Social media platforms are now becoming tools for change, and a generation eager to shape its future is wielding them.