For years, journalists have referred to a so-called ‘war’ between the generations, present in all aspects of life; from opposing political views, to economic and social differences. While this conflict is not always obvious within the family structure itself, one quick look on any social media platform reveals a clear social divide between older generations and younger ones.
With social media becoming easier to access and more widespread in its use, we often see it being used as a platform for conflict between internet users of all ages and social backgrounds; people can share their thoughts and opinions online in one simple post, which reaches a wide audience and can be accessed by anyone around the globe at any time. Almost every other post on my Facebook feed contains a battle in the comments section, and it is not uncommon for this conflict to occur between members of different generations.
Increase in social media use has even given rise to new, internet-specific terminology, which indicates how the conflict between generations is as real as ever, and still thrives today. For example, how many times have you seen the term ‘snowflake’ used by an older internet user, in reference to someone younger (usually a millennial or a member of generation Z) who holds a different opinion to them on a certain topic? The term ‘snowflake’ or ‘snowflake generation’ implies that younger generations are ‘softer’, or in some cases, more easily offended by opposing political and social views that do not cater to their beliefs.
For instance, nobody doubts that Gen Z (born between the late 1990s and early 2010s) and the emerging generation Alpha have been born into a world that is more accepting of diversity in the community than it has ever been, which is reflected in many of the widely held values and opinions of these generations. This is a direct effect of the invention of social media (birthed around the same time as early Gen Z), where it has become easy for someone to be educated and enlightened through the spread of insightful digital information.
Nevertheless, while younger generations have been born into a culture of respect and acceptance, we often see young internet users attacking older generations and other internet users for their opinions and beliefs online. Like the term ‘snowflake’, the word ‘boomer’ is often used to poke fun at those who behave a certain way, or express a certain opinion: one that others believe to be ‘outdated’.
Furthermore, there has been an emergence of a toxic ‘cancel culture’ on social media in recent years, in which internet users publicly shame well-known figures who are the subject of controversy. Many other internet users, particularly from older generations, believe cancel culture is harsh and unjust, which, in many cases, is true, as it can sometimes lead to unfair online abuse.
In June last year the comedy series ‘Little Britain’ was removed from all streaming services due to its use of blackface and controversial stereotypes. Many people who had watched the series when it was first aired between 2003 and 2007 were upset, and blamed younger generations for their ‘overly-sensitive’ nature which ultimately caused the series to be axed. This is a prime example of how modern uses of social media are contributing to the belief that younger generations are far too easily offended.
In reality, there are an awful lot of hardships that younger generations have had to deal with as a result of being born into a world of social media, that can sometimes be difficult for older generations to understand.
While being born in the age of the internet has educated people, it also means that a lot more pressure is put on young internet users to conform to unrealistic beauty standards portrayed and idolised on social media. Younger people are being exposed to sensationalisation in the media, which puts emphasis on bad news and can sometimes make issues appear worse than they are to spark publicity. As a result of these problems, young people nowadays are facing a mental health crisis, which ultimately contributes to the toxic misconception that younger generations are simply ‘too sensitive’.
This attitude towards holding people accountable for their actions, as seen in ‘cancel culture’, is distinctly different to that of older generations, in particular the ‘baby boomer’ generation (generally defined as being born between 1945 and 1964), who have a distinct ‘just get on with it’ attitude, which, like Gen Z, is a result of the climate in which they were born in.
The ‘baby boomer’ generation encompasses those who were born in the years following the second world war, when birth rates dramatically increased. Many of the attitudes and values held by current members of this generation reflect those held by society in during the 1940s-60s, which are vastly different to values upheld in today’s technology-oriented society.
Although it seems that it is mostly younger generations who use the internet to shame opinions they believe to be ‘outdated’, the ‘keyboard warrior’ culture appears to be bleeding into other generations as social media becomes more popular, which is why so much conflict occurs on the internet.
Overall, it is important to remember that members of different generations have been born into different social climates, making it difficult to understand and respect one another’s values. Nevertheless, it is vital that we try to learn from each other and accept that other people may have a different opinion to yours.
Social media platforms are not the place to be questioning the beliefs of others; instead we should have friendly discussions and try to understand why it is that certain groups of people hold specific values. Abusing someone online just because their opinion is different to yours is never okay.
It should be expected that older members of society have a different outlook on life and world affairs than younger people, because they have different needs and experiences, and I believe that there is a lot that can be learned from each of the generations.