Greta Thunberg and Her Role in Digital Activism and Citizenship

*This blog is a project for Study Unit MCS3953, University of Malta*

As technology has advanced over the decades, so has the world we live in! With this, the way society operates has also changed. Technology today is so modern and so advanced that we have gone so far as to say that we are presently living in the digital age in which we are called ‘digital citizens’. By definition, being a digital citizen means being an active and efficient user of the internet and other technologies and also being able to partake in an online society. Nowadays we seem to talk a lot about being online citizens, however, what we don’t talk about enough is all the responsibilities that come with having such an online presence.

In this blog post, we will be talking about how a young environmental activist is slowly changing the world with the help of the online world. We do this in hopes of encouraging you to realize the power of social media and how a simple tweet can in fact change the world.

Greta Thunberg

According to Mavrodieva et. al (2019), climate change has been a highly debated topic in the last few years but despite this, numerous hindrances have disrupted the development of policies and strategies by the nations. They argue that in the last few years public figures are using technology to raise awareness on climate change. They also state that “social media platforms — such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook — have provided an opportunity for the general public to discuss and share opinions instantly with vast cross-border networks.”

If you were to ask me the question; Who do you think of when you speak about digital citizenship? I would definitely reply with two words: Greta Thunberg! At the young age of only 17, she has managed to do a lot for the planet and has even inspired many to follow in her footsteps without leaving any carbon footprints! See what I did there?

Thunberg began protesting at a very young age on the need to take immediate action regarding climate change! She even started the ‘school strike movement’ when she boldly refused to go to school so she could stand outside the Swedish Parliament to protest her cause and demanded that her government cut emission by 15% a year!

She has been so successful that the editors of Time Magazine have actually named her the magazine’s 2019 person of the year! They wrote about her success by saying that she “has succeeded in creating a global attitudinal shift, transforming millions of vague, middle-of-the-night anxieties into a worldwide movement calling for urgent change.” But how did she accomplish this?

She makes her voice heard in the best way possible in 2020; by using various social media platforms like Twitter! In Korea, a group of people studied “the role of social media in Thunberg’s rise to prominence by investigating Twitter communications over 14 months, analyzing tweet contents and user profiles” (Jung et al., 2020). They argue that their findings have revealed that people who have a big following of people such as celebrities and public figures have been a vital ingredient in Greta’s success and influence on others.

Thunberg is so influential that responsible for the ‘Greta Effect’. This has inspired many people of her age to participate in climate activism and has also succeeded in influencing a lot of people who had not been interested in her agenda before. Jung et al,. (2020) noted that even though Thunberg’s original strike photo was posted on Instagram and Twitter, it was on Twitter that she first got her earliest known supporters who helped her in her cause to get more exposure. They argued that “she also understood social media and was clever enough to utilize her Twitter bio in response to the people who trolled her.”

In fact, Twitter is a primary social media platform when it comes to digital activism and sharing news. Activists like Franchesca Ramsey who speaks about racism and other topics of interest to her and even both the American and even Maltese political leaders also turn to Twitter to voice their opinions. This is what makes digital activism so powerful. According to Blumler and Katz, the Uses and Gratifications Theory states that the user has five simple needs one of which is personal identity. This means that social media users can recognize role models who have the same or similar values as them and gives them the opportunity to start up a conversation about a topic which they are passionate about — such as climate change.

Thunberg is also famous for feuding with Donald Trump on Twitter. People love to see Thunberg and Trump’s not-so-friendly banter. Thunberg being unapologetically herself and witty online is something which catches the eye of online citizens — be it activists or not. Although not directly, these tweets are actually helping her cause by attracting more and more people to her Twitter account which she also uses to spread awareness regarding her cause. This is especially when her wittiness is being used on someone like Donald Trump; who as we know, is currently not everyone’s favorite person! I mean, what better way to make people want to care about your cause than to stand up to Donald Trump?

Image taken from Metro UK

In my opinion, Thunberg stands out as a digital citizen for various reasons, but one of them would surely have to be her boldness, confidence and maturity online. Her tweets are extremely agreeable and will either leave you pondering on the environment or leave you whispering ‘touché’ to yourself. One could say that Greta Thunberg is in fact changing the world one hashtag at a time!

Reference List

Two Communications students studying at the University of Malta who are fascinated by the power of the online voice!