(11th and 12th Grade Category)

1st prize: Imaad Siddiqui of Princeton, NJ

Grade: 12th

Topic: Combating racial injustice in the age of social media

Title: The Intention of Innovation: How Social Media Intersects with Racial Justice


As developments in communication parallel human evolution, they both complement and hinder the social movements that have become instrumental to such evolution. Although racial justice movements are centuries old, developments in communication such as social media only arose in the past few decades. This innovation forced age-old rhetoric to adapt to the modern era as future generations rapidly developed a dependence on social media. Now, in a world driven by social media, the question arises: has a shift toward more publicly available and accessible forms of communication had a positive or negative effect on racial justice? The rise of social media has given way to both developments and regressions in racial justice, making this question difficult to answer.

On one hand, social media has allowed a new age of awareness to combat racial injustice, as it allows for perspectives and anecdotes from minorities across the world. On platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, countless students present the racial injustices that they face on a daily basis, including cultural appropriation or hate crimes. (Peña) The Instagram account “@dearpwi” addresses its content directly to “predominantly white institutions” and spreads awareness of racial injustice on college campuses. Social media also displays its virtue in the promotion of entire movements such as the opposition to racially-motivated police brutality. In 2014, this was illustrated in the wake of the murder of Eric Gardner by police in New York. A study from the Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI) showed that Twitter was instrumental in spreading awareness and organizing protests. (qtd. in Auxier). The freedom provided on social media platforms creates the perfect environment for organizing movements as they unite individual minority voices through their collective experiences of racial injustice. However, social media platforms are far from a monolith, and the positives of social media cannot be evaluated without considering its negatives.

Although the freedom of social media can be helpful for social justice causes, it may also yield the opposite effect. Elon Musk’s recent acquisition of Twitter sent ripples across the platform, bringing forth a wave of racial injustice. Experts at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that “the use of the hateful and racist ‘N’ word on the platform increased by almost 500 percent…” (Namakula, et al.) Musk’s “free speech” advocacy combined with online anonymity created an avenue of hate against minority groups without any accountability. Not only that, but the epidemic of racial injustice online has also spread to powerful political figures. Donald Trump, during the COVID-19 pandemic, referred to the disease as “the Chinese Virus,” promoting rhetoric that led to a 150% increase in Anti-Asian violence in 2020. (qtd. in Brown, et al; Yam) As harmful speech rises from all sides on social media, it becomes difficult to declare it as a helpful tool against racial injustice.

So, the question remains, is social media’s impact on social justice movements positive or negative impact? That question may ultimately not have a clear answer. Striking a balance between the positive and negative effects of social media on racial justice requires the understanding that social media is a tool shaped by its user’s intentions. The Prophet Muhammad (S) once said that “actions are according to intentions, and everyone will get what was intended.” (An-Nawawi) With the powers of freedom and anonymity that social media provides, its impact will ultimately be decided by the user’s purpose. As some make it their intention to spread injustice, the opposite intention must remain alive, to promote the online world as one that stands against racial injustice.