Date of Award

August 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Learning Sciences

Committee Member

Danielle Herro

Committee Member

Luke Rapa

Committee Member

Mikel Cole

Committee Member

Jacquelynn Malloy


After the 2018 shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students across the United States participated in a national school walkout to protest school shootings. In conducting this study, I set out to examine two aspects of youth activism in relation to social media. First, how social media affected pathways to participation for high school students who participated in the National School Walkout. Second, how youth used social media in their activism.

Multiple case study (Yin, 2014) was used to explore how eight youth activists who organized and conducted a march for gun control laws reacted to social media surround the Parkland shooting and used social media in their subsequent activism. The cases drew on four data sources: interviews, digital and social media artifacts, and photographs.

The results show that traditional pathways to participation in activism such as being asked, recruitment by social movement organizations, and identifying as an activist are still valid pathways. Additionally, all participants cited the Parkland shooting as a key moment that motivated them to participate. The study also found that social media can have an impact on these pathways. Seeing other youth participate in activism through social media can increase self-efficacy among potential participants. Social media can also bridge gaps in civic opportunities, allowing youth in rural areas to participate in national-wide movements.

To determine how youth are using social media as part of their activism, a content analysis of social media artifacts was conducted. The analysis revealed shared practices in terms of social media posting among youth activists across the country. These practices included using social media to post certain categories of post before the walkout such as gauging interest, promoting the walkout, calling for volunteers, and giving logistical details. After the walkout, youth tended to post two different types of posts: posts including gratitude, reflection, and documentation and posts calling for further action, such as voting. The practices together created a digital repertoire of tactics for youth who were organizing their schools’ walkouts.

The results affirmed existing literature on pathways to participation and found that social media can increase self-efficacy in youth by exposing them to peer-aged activists. The results also showed that youth experienced a shift in civic expression online, initially silent on social media regarding the Parkland shooting but ultimately using social media extensively to post both about the walkout and issues of gun violence. The results also showed Activists used social media as an alternative channel of communication, particularly when censored by school administration. The participants’ use of social media also demonstrated how their activism was internet-supported rather than internet-based. Further research is needed to examine how transitions to college impact civic and political participation among Generation Z students.



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