4 Gen Z Activists Revolutionizing Big Tech

4 Gen Z Activists Revolutionizing Big Tech (Emmie Wolf-Dubin for YR Media)

With an ever-changing reality of technology and ever-loosening safeguards around it, four Gen Z activists are wondering: Is it enough?

During a South by Southwest panel, “Beyond Big Tech: A Landmark Youth Movement to Thrive Online,” the answer was, in short, a resounding ‘no.’

Quick review of the four (extremely impressive) panelists:

Emma Lembke, a college sophomore and founder of LOG OFF, is one of the youngest people to testify in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on technology. She explained she was called to the movement after dealing with a harsh decline in self-image after joining social media — an experience 1 in 3 girls can relate to.

Zamaan Qureshi, a college senior and Co-Chair of Design it For Us, came to the movement after becoming engaged with the policy side. He said he was interested in the ability of social media to make a firm impact on elections.

Trisha Prabhu, the founder of ReThink Media, is easily one of the most impressive 23-year-olds you’ll ever meet. She has won numerous awards and began her work in technology advocacy after experiencing cyber-bullying first-hand. “When I got a phone,” she said, “it wasn’t just a gateway to making new friends, it was a gateway to people saying mean things … people I didn’t even know.” She has since turned that experience into a career of making sure other young people don’t have to undergo the same things.

Sneha Revanur of Encode Justice was one of the younger people on this panel but was absolutely not lacking experience. She has earned her seat at the table, and not too long ago, that seat was next to Vice President Kamala Harris at a roundtable on AI. She has done incredible work to ensure AI legally has to respect human rights.

To put it lightly, this panel and the panelists were inspiring, and made its audience think: This. This is the future. The future is Gen Z.

Qureshi absolutely does not take the responsibility lightly. Towards the beginning of the panel, he announced, “We’re at a moment right now … we’ve gone too many years with unfettered access to social media.”

Prabhu agreed, adding, “We are at a breaking point, but we have a pathway. We have good ideas … Yes, we are at a precipice, but we actually know how we can move forward …, but we’ve waited nearly three decades too long.”

So, how do we actually proceed?

Design It For Us is endorsing a few bills on the federal level to improve these laws. You can view them here. One bill, the Kids Online Safety Act, is near the forefront of most minds. Some highlights include: An annual report on foreseeable risks of a given platform, disclosing specified information, not advertising certain products (such as nicotine) to young people, and allowing consumers and guardians to report certain harms.

The panelists also discussed how borderless this fight was. Prabhu touched on this, saying, “The internet is ultimately an international entity.”

“This is an issue that has no borders,” Lembke agreed.

Revanur added in reference to deepfake pornography, “These conversations have to be borderless. These harms are borderless.”

The fact of the matter is that this is an unprecedented time in an uber-connected world. In this moment, extrication of humans and the internet is impossible, which leads advocates such as Lembke, Prabhu, Qureshi, and Revanur to think of solutions to make it livable.

Qureshi closed out the conversation with a chilling call to action: “(Improved legislation) is a net positive for society. If you’re not doing this kind of work, at least invest in people who are… and for policymakers: Think about how you want to be remembered.”

If you’d like to learn more about how to get involved in this fight, please check out any of their four organizations at the following links: ReThink (cyberbullying), Design It For Us (overall policy advocacy), Encode Justice (AI and human rights), and LOG OFF (safe internet education).

Emmie Wolf-Dubin (she/her) is a high school student in Nashville who covers anything from entertainment to politics. Follow her on Instagram: @redheadwd07. 

Edited by NaTyshca Pickett

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