1st prize: Ziyad Nagarwala of Princeton Junction, NJ

Grade: 10th

Topic: Combating racial injustice in the age of social media

Title: Digital Racism


Social media has emerged as a potent tool in the fight against racial injustice in recent years. The ability to instantly share information, videos, and images on a global scale has enabled social media to play a crucial role in documenting instances of racism and police brutality, exposing systemic inequality, and mobilizing people to demand change. However, like any other tool, there are both advantages and disadvantages to using social media in the fight against racial injustice.

One of the most significant benefits of social media in combating racial injustice is its ability to amplify the voices of marginalized communities. The mainstream media has historically ignored or downplayed issues related to race and racism, perpetuating a narrative that excludes the experiences of people of color. Social media allows individuals to share their stories and perspectives directly with a wider audience, bypassing traditional gatekeepers. This has been instrumental in enabling movements such as Black Lives Matter to gain traction and influence public discourse on issues related to police violence, mass incarceration, and other forms of structural racism. In addition, social media has facilitated the creation of networks and communities focused on racial justice. People can connect with others who share their concerns and organize collective action through hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName.

Social media has democratized activism by enabling individuals to participate in movements from anywhere in the world, regardless of their physical location or ability to attend in-person protests. This has been particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when large gatherings have been difficult or impossible. However, social media also has its drawbacks when it comes to combating racial injustice. The spread of misinformation and propaganda is one of the biggest challenges. Anyone can post anything on social media, regardless of whether it is accurate or credible. This has led to the circulation of false or misleading information about racialized communities, often with harmful consequences. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Asian Americans were subjected to a surge in hate crimes due in part to racist rhetoric spread on social media.

Another issue is the tendency of social media to foster performative activism. It is easy to share a post or use a hashtag without actually engaging in substantive action or making real change. This can give people a false sense of accomplishment and distract from the hard work required to achieve racial justice. Furthermore, social media can create a distorted image of what activism looks like, prioritizing spectacle over sustained, strategic organizing. To effectively combat racial injustice in the age of social media, it is important to recognize both the potential and the limitations of these platforms. Social media can be a powerful tool for organizing and raising awareness, but it must be used in conjunction with other strategies and tactics. For example, social media can be used to promote in-person events and mobilize people to take action beyond the online space.

Additionally, it is crucial to verify the accuracy and credibility of information shared on social media and to avoid falling into the trap of performative activism. In conclusion, social media has both benefits and drawbacks when it comes to combating racial injustice. While it has been instrumental in raising awareness and mobilizing people, it also poses significant challenges in terms of misinformation and performative activism. To effectively use social media in the fight for racial justice, it is important to approach it as a tool to be used in conjunction with other strategies and tactics. By doing so, we can harness the power of social media to create meaningful change and combat racial injustice.