While scrolling through Instagram recently, you may have noticed more of your feed filled with posts discussing social justice topics, designed to get Gen Z excited about making a difference. As they exploded in popularity, these new posts were dubbed “PowerPoint Activism” for their slideshow-like design and graphics. By helping young people understand the events happening in our communities and country, PowerPoint Activism played an instrumental role in getting young people to vote in the 2020 election, potentially swinging the results.
The past few years have marked an enormous increase in Gen Z’s interest in important social issues. Following the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, young people took to the streets and social media, advocating for common-sense gun reform. In 2019, Gen Z led the global climate change protests advocating for a safer future. Now, in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the election have inspired Gen Z to become politically engaged. After the murder of George Floyd, dozens of accounts were created explaining what was happening, and how to help. Soon, the short and easily comprehendible posts exploded in popularity. Of these accounts, the most famous may potentially be @soyouwanttotalkabout. Its bio says “Dissecting progressive politics and social issues in graphic slideshow form!” The account has over 2 million followers and 400+ posts to date, discussing everything from the Minimum Wage to Confederate Monuments to the Election.
While the topics vary over different accounts and posts, the design remains similar. Colorful slides, clear sentences, and compelling graphics. If the posts were filled with paragraphs of information, no matter how interesting the topics, young people would probably scroll right past. Instead, most posts spread out the information over the 10 maximum slides that Instagram allows per post. The success of PowerPoint Activism is because of a uniquely Gen Z fact: we are the first generation to receive the majority of our news from social media with 59% of Gen Zers listing Instagram or another social media platform as their main source of news. Over 40 million Gen Zers are on Instagram, so the audience for these posts is very large.
According to NBC News, fake information spreads 6 times faster than truthful information on social media platforms like Instagram. Thankfully, most PowerPoint Activism posts cite all sources used, and most accounts use reliable sources for information, such as the Census Bureau or the New York Times. This helpful addition makes the posts more trustworthy for teens wary of fake news and gives more credibility to the message being shared.
PowerPoint Activism helped create record-high youth turnout in the 2020 election. 53% of eligible young voters cast votes, almost a 10-point jump from 2016, and the record turnout may have made all the difference in determining the winner of the presidential election. PowerPoint Activism capitalized on young people’s interest in making a difference and helped them understand the importance of their vote in changing so many of the issues that Gen Z cares about. These new young voters may have determined the winner of the closely contested presidential election. A study found that youth votes may have been critical in determining the winner in several battleground states. In Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania, the net gain of youth votes that President-elect Biden received was much greater than the difference in votes between the candidates. Without young voters, the election might have turned out very differently.
2020 will go down in history as the year that Gen Z and young people demonstrated how much of an impact their voices can make, and PowerPoint Activism is a perfect example. In 2018, 73% of Gen Zers said that young people have the power to change the country. Today, 84% feel the same way. After all, simple Instagram accounts explaining what’s happening in the world of politics and social justice showed how anyone can make their voice heard, and possibly played a key role in electing our 46th President.
Ian is a dual US/UK citizen who was born in New York City and currently lives in Miami, Florida. He is a rising freshman at Ransom Everglades Upper School, where he plans to be involved in Speech and Debate as well as Student Government. Outside of school, Ian can be found sailing around the world, reading a good book, or running. He is passionate about politics and current events, and volunteers with several political advocacy organizations. Through Gen Z Identity Lab, Ian hopes to start a discussion among young people who are passionate about current events and are eager to inspire change.