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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

OPINION: Gen Z is on track to becoming the most polarized generation

OPINION%3A+Gen+Z+is+on+track+to+becoming+the+most+polarized+generation
Sela Margalit

Throughout history and generations, young people have often found themselves at the forefront of major social change. Whether it be peace-driven students protesting the Vietnam War, students demanding civil rights or fighting against gun violence within our schools — the desire to remain informed and create change remains timeless within each new generation of young people. Gen Z is hardly excluded from this narrative, etching ourselves into the record as perhaps the most passionate and strong-willed generation yet. 

Despite this, we are living in an era where media consumption is at an all time high — especially for Gen Z. In fact, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center study, 97% of us report using the internet daily. So, while our hunger for knowledge has endured just as it did for our grandparents, the way we go about getting it couldn’t be more different than it was 50, even 40 years ago.

This major deviation is also morphing into Gen Z’s biggest downfall.

Within the past 10 years, American youth has climbed their way to the #1 spot in media fluency — or so we think. When we envision what political polarization entails today, we picture the January 6 insurrection, tweens posting error-ridden Instagram infographics or adamant anti-vaccine rants at Thanksgiving dinners. While there’s no denying that these are concrete examples of how politically isolated we as a country have become, I fear that Gen Z frequently separates these instances from self. Often, we look down upon the older generation who is so often plagued by their own lack of media fluency. We receive odd Facebook news articles from our grandparents or wonder how our uncle has the time to subscribe to that many right-wing YouTube channels. These instances, while at times humorous, ultimately should serve more as a sign of caution for Gen Z than anything else.  

Shouldn’t we be better equipped to navigate the polarizing effects of the internet? The statistics behind our media consumption habits tell a different story. 

Another 2022 Pew Research Center study shows that 36% of X’s, formally Twitter, news consumers are adults aged 18-29, mostly members of Gen Z depending on where you make the cutoff. While the app has been the subject of conversation around misinformation for years, this past week has proven there to be no improvement. As Israel was attacked by Hamas, a Palestinian militant group, deceptive news flooded X. According to Cyabara, an Israeli analysis form, one in five social media accounts engaging in online conversation regarding the Hamas attacks are fake. This holds especially true on X, where it appears as though the app’s efforts to combat misinformation cannot keep up with the rate it is being spread —  with even clips from a short film being posted with the intent to appear as real news. 

The interesting aspect of the rate in which this misinformation is deployed is not quite in its content but rather in the demographic that falls most susceptible to it. A test developed by the University of Cambridge was conducted on Americans of various ages in order to identify how often we can decipher fake news. It turned out that those who spent more than 9 hours of recreational time online each day only received a high score on the test 15% of the time. The test success rate doubled for those who reported 0-2 hours a day of internet time. These results heavily conflict with the common narrative that the older, “boomer” generation is far more susceptible to misinformation than younger, seemingly tech-savvy Gen Z. 

So, evidently, our media proficiency may not be as outstanding as we think.

In fact, our time spent online (even if it’s not on Facebook) may be having the exact opposite effect towards our activism efforts than we once thought. The truth is, young people today can spend all the hours on X or Instagram and repost all of the misinformation we please — our current cycle of excess media consumption is the direct recipe for our worsening media literacy. 

If Gen Z wants to avoid this trajectory, we should remain tenacious in our efforts to seek the truth through more traditional outlets — even if it’s not always the most convenient. 

The future generations might just thank us.


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Olivia Krupp

Olivia is a junior studying journalism. She is the opinions editor as well as the president of Women in Journalism club. She enjoys reading and watching movies in her free time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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