Digital Activism: How the Online Youth-Led Climate Movement Mobilizes Communities for Change

Emily G. Wielk, Gettysburg College

Written as an Honors Thesis in Sociology.


With the increasing prominence of online media, digital environments have allowed for new developments in establishing online social movements. Social media, in particular, offered a new way to generate knowledge amongst publics, facilitate dialogue, and build a coalition around the movement’s cause. The theoretical framework provided by the contributions of McLuhan, Castells, and Goffman allowed key strategies of community building and storytelling to emerge through the lens of the youth climate change movement. Digital ethnography was used to collect data on seven female youth climate activists through their public Twitter accounts to assess social media as a tool for social organizing and community building. The seven youth activists uniquely employed five emergent strategies that appeared effective in engaging activist communities on Twitter: (1) projecting an activist identity through the content generated in their tweets; (2) disseminating information and documenting offline protests in an online forum to inspire followers and ignite action for change; (3) engaging in broad political conversations, and recentering focus on the larger environmental concerns that motivated the movement; (4) building a network directly connected to several core actors, here the most important being Thunberg; and (5) crafting a message and utilizing a medium that resonates with the base of followers that the movement wants to attract. These were used to build a common narrative around the youth fear of their future on Earth given that climate change may render it unlivable in their lifetime, and advancing the youth climate cause, whether digitally or physically.