Though social media is utilized by people of all ages, it is with youth that the practice is nearly ubiquitous. Nowhere was the popularity of platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, more apparent than recent social movements organized by youth. In 2010, revolutions in the Middle East, now known as the Arab Spring, began with youth organizing through social media. Here in the U.S and with a similar wildfire spread, March For Our Lives, a march on Washington, DC in support of gun-control legislation, was organized as a youth response to a mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida. (3) Now, UNESCO is encouraging youth worldwide to use social media once again to promote peace through an UNESCO online youth community on Facebook. (1)
“Safe Spaces for Youth” is the theme of the 2018 International Youth Day celebrated on August 12, and social media is one of these spaces.
What exactly is meant by safe spaces in this context? According to the United Nations, they are gathering places where youth can participate in decision-making processes, take part in activities that address a variety of needs and interests, and express themselves freely. Further, safe spaces ensure dignity and safety. Without them, young people of differing ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds and genders may be reluctant to contribute to their communities. (2)
Feeling powerless can lead to conflict and even violence such as school shootings and political or religious extremism. Empowering youth is one way to build peace. UNESCO’s online youth community “puts young people at the heart of addressing the root causes of violent extremism.” (1)
Aside from social media, young people also exchanged ideas on International Youth Day by way of lectures, debates and symposiums. In Arusha, Tanzania, a youth symposium brought together representatives from diverse groups: University students, disability groups, and clubs. Participants listened to several speakers and then wrote four resolutions to be presented at a national commemoration of International Youth Day. The resolutions emphasized the need for inclusion of special needs students in education, encouraged the empowerment of youth in the economy through vocational training and entrepreneurship, stressed the importance of life skills in education, and requested services be made available to prevent early child marriages and pregnancies. (4)
International Youth Day was first recognized in 1999 by the United Nations General Assembly. In 2018, we have 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world. Approximately 1 in 10 live in conflict zones, and 24 million do not go to school. These are the youth who are vulnerable to poverty, feelings of hopelessness and violence. International Youth Day raises awareness of the challenges and problems facing youth.(2)
As U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “In making the world safe for young people, we make the world better for all.”(2)