In contrast to my millennial counterparts, I have had a somewhat cynical view of social media.
I shunned both Facebook and Instagram two and a half years ago after becoming a victim of online harassment, and in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I confess myself guilty of some feelings of self-righteousness. But far from losing friends (real, not virtual) through my invariable I told you so!'s, I have found my mistrust of the online world increasingly shared.
Organisations, including extremist or political groups, have proven themselves adept at using social media for malicious or unethical purposes. News stories repeatedly warn that our generation of selfie-takers have become narcissistic, superficial, and plagued by a desire for instant gratification as a result of social media’s influence.
Yet while attending a Creators for Change (CFC) boot camp in Jakarta, Indonesia, it occurred to me that the online community is in reality not always like this. In fact, despite our trepidations, the perhaps fickle, modern world does still have time for the kind of online storytelling that reaches people at a deeper level - and when it comes to intolerance and discrimination, practically everyone has a story to tell.
The majority of the online world consists of people who are willing and prepared to use their own experiences to help make a positive change, curb the spread of fake news, and show other people going through tough experiences that they are not alone. Indeed, young creatives have proven themselves proactive when it comes to online activism. With over half of millennial subscribers claiming a YouTuber changed their life, and around 70 per cent agreeing that YouTubers shape modern culture, the potential to use video for social good is phenomenal. Social media content, when done well, can provoke hard-hitting conversations and change social landscapes - and video is one of the most impactful ways to do this. According to Forbes, video content will be over 80% of all consumer internet traffic by 2020.
Inspired, at the last boot camp in Indonesia I threw caution to the wind and tried my own hand at vlogging. Turns out, it’s trickier than you might think. Trying to seem charmingly spontaneous without stumbling over your words or looking incredibly awkward is a skill many of these YouTubers have perfected over the course of years.
Abi from channel Inimasabi tried to coach me using his camera. “Hold it like this,” he said, repositioning me, suddenly businesslike. We start rolling. I look bewildered, forget to introduce myself and tell him he should become the next UN Secretary General. “You can edit this, right?” I laughed once were done. “Oh, I will,” he says, half joking, half deadly serious.
Despite my blunders, I was pleasantly surprised about the amount help I received from creators over the course of the day. They were keen to provide me with tips and threw in jokes to keep my stage fright at bay.
This is why Creators for Change is an important initiative. It encourages people to connect, to collectively discuss issues they're passionate about, and help each other out - well beyond the virtual space. And with their wealth of creativity and social media savviness on offer, NGOs, UN Agencies, think tanks, charities, activists and campaigners would be fools not to invite them to collaborate to help promote social causes.
I, for one, returned to the Regional Hub with a little of my faith in the online world restored.
About the author
Mailee Osten-Tan is the Communications Consultant for Women, Peacebuilding and Preventing Violent Extremism at UNDP Asia Pacific, managing the YouTube partnered project Creators for Change, the #ExtremeLives video series covering on-the-ground stories of extremism, and gender-inclusive peacebuilding network, N-Peace. (email@example.com)