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Millennial Use of Social Media and Awareness of Social Issues

Paper Type: Free Coursework Study Level: University / Undergraduate
Wordcount: 6461 words Published: 25th Feb 2019

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Millennials’ and Post-Millennial’s Usage of Social Media and their Awareness of Sex Trafficking


This capstone project focuses on the correlation between millennials’ and post millennials’ usage of social media and how that connects to their awareness of sex trafficking in the United States. The study takes a social scientific approach by utilizing a survey targeting millennial and post-millennial students at Xavier University of Louisiana. Millennials are those who were born between 1977 to 1995, while post-millennials are those born 1996 to 2010 ( Williams). The study measures the respondents’ awareness, knowledge, and concern about the issue of sex trafficking. The Department of Homeland Security blue campaign page (2010) defines human trafficking as a “modern-day form of slavery involving the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain.” There are 20.9 million human trafficking victims worldwide according to the International Labor Organization. In 2015, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes state that sexual exploitation is the common trafficking issue even more than forced labor. In the United States, there are more than 4,000 cases of sex trafficking according to findings by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center in 2015. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center human trafficking on a global scale is a lucrative 150-billion-dollar annual industry. (Alvarez)

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Millennials and post-millennials use social media to stay informed on social justice issues. Zeynep Tufekci (2013) found that with the spread of the Internet in the last two decades, social movements have become increasingly reliant on new digital technologies for networking and information sharing. Social media platforms make it easy to spread a message across the world or spark conversations or discussions about social justice topics. The availability of social media is present on gaming consoles, smart phones, tablets, and laptops. From November 2006 to September 2009 93% of American youths between ages 12-17 have been using social media, a percentage than remain constant. (Lenhart, Percell, Smith, & Zickuhr 2010). When compared to Young adults, age 18-29 usages of social media is the same as youths. (Lenhart, Percell, Smith, & Zickuhr 2010)

According to PEW Research Center who conducted a national survey of 1,520 adults March 7-April 4, 2016:

“Facebook continues to be America’s most popular social networking platform by a substantial margin: Nearly eight-in-ten online Americans1 (79%) now use Facebook, more than double the share that uses Twitter (24%), Pinterest (31%), Instagram (32%) or LinkedIn (29%). On a total population basis (accounting for Americans who do not use the internet at all), that means that 68% of all U.S. adults are Facebook users, while 28% use Instagram, 26% use Pinterest, 25% use LinkedIn and 21% use Twitter.”   (quoted from Greenwood, Perrin and Duggan)

Based on the information available on social media use in terms of viewing videos, text, images and blogs, the individual’s awareness of social issues such as sex trafficking may shift. In fact, sex trafficking content is becoming more and more seen through social media outlets. One recent example was the video on February 15th, 2017 of Ashton Kutcher speaking to Congress on behalf of his company that combats sex trafficking. This was shared on social media platforms over two million times in a span of two days (CBS News, 2017, February 15).

This study thus uses framing theory to look at how social media users process the information they see on social issues. The agenda of sex trafficking awareness in social media focuses on targeting people with pictures and videos regarding how it happens, where it happens, how to help prevent it, warning signs, and other general information for the individual to know. This study will help us understand social media as a platform that allows content producers to raise awareness of social issues such as sex trafficking.

Review of Literature 

Sex Trafficking 

Sex Trafficking is a global issue that affects men, women, and children. It does not discriminate based on race, gender, or religion; anyone can be trafficked. The trafficking of young women and children for prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation is one of the most significant human rights abuses in contemporary society (Curtol, Decarli, Di Nicola, & Savona, 2004). Those who are trafficked internationally almost 50% of them are children and 70% to 80% are female. (U.S. Department of State, 2004). Of those numbers over 70% are trafficked for sexual exploitation. (U.S. Department of State, 2004). Even though sex trafficking is the largest portion of human trafficking it has grown to new heights in the last 10 years. (Flowers, 2001; Kelly, 2004; Monzini, 2004; Struhsaker, Schatz & Furman, 2002; Hodge, D. R. 2008).  (“Sexual Trafficking in The United States: A Domestic Problem with Transnational Dimensions.”)

The United States Department of State in the TIP (2011) defines sex trafficking as an act in which an “adult is coerced, forced, or deceived into prostitution or maintained in prostitution through coercion.”  If the person is “induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age”, then he or she is considered to have been trafficked no matter whether consent was given or not (The United States Department of State in the TIP, 2011 pg. 1).  If a minor was coerced in any way to perform a sexual act, he or she is considered to be a victim of sex trafficking. 

 Social Media

Social media is used by millennials and post-millennials for many things, which range from keeping in touch with old friends to sharing information. This study considers how social media affects college students’ awareness of social issues. Does it enhance their awareness? Does it make them blind to social issues that are happening in the world? The use of social networking sites, Facebook in particular, have become a major avenue of communication (Giraldi, 2016). This allows people to be able to post videos or pictures, allowing others to comment which sparks a discussion. In addition, Facebook shows other content that is related to a posted video that is then “liked” by users. Facebook has become a platform where people can discuss any topic of their choice to include social issues. While some argue, Facebook is only a disseminator of information, others argue that it is also a motivator of social activism (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). Social media and networking technologies help people connect with one another based on shared interests, political views, or activities. Some social media and networking Web sites are broad and offer practices to diverse audiences, while others focus specifically on certain hobbies and interests. Sites also vary in the communication tools they offer to users, including mobile connectivity, blogging, and photo/video sharing (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). Facebook profiles include one’s social ties, both strong and weak, and has the potential to expose users to different information daily.

Tufecki (2013) stated, “Social sharing networks such as Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, YouTube, and other outlets provide ways to reach social movement members with mobilizing messages on a similar scale as radio and television but without using traditional broadcast channels” (p. 3). Social media allows individuals to stay in tune and grab information for whatever issue they are looking. It can provide a window to the past and present, as well as future actions that may be taken in regards to combating sexual trafficking. When speaking on the impact of social media, Lica & Tuta (2011) stated, “Improvements in computers, mobile technologies and integrated technologies have played an essential role in bringing the world together, and adding ease to the way people communicate with each other” (p. 13). Technology has advanced through time, and the world is seen as smaller due to the ability of being able to communicate with anybody, anywhere, at any time. In addition, this adds to the amount of information that is available for individuals to be able to access.

In recent years, we have been paying attention to incredibly violent acts by law enforcement and prejudice through Facebook. The last few years we have been prevue to fatal situations between African-American males and Caucasian police officers. Some of these losses range from teens to adults 12-year-old Tamir Rice, 18-year-old Michael Brown, and 43-year-old Eric Garner. These 3 African American males are just some of the victims to lose their lives since 2012 due to fatal encounters with white officers and Facebook has been used as a platform to inform us of these tragic incidents. (Giraldi, N. A., 2016 pg. 2)

In response to these tragic events, a social movement started which later turned into an organization called Black Lives Matter (Giraldi, N. A., 2016). The use of social media as a tool of awareness is very relevant because this is how millennials and post-millennials communicate and receive information.

The utilization of social media is common among college students. Having been raised in a digital world, a vast majority of young adults are more proficient with using technology than older individuals (Jones, Ramanau, Cross & Healing, 2010). Social media as a platform for social change is a growing trend. Change.org and Go Fund Me are popular sites, as are the hashtags #alllivesmatter and #blacklivesmatter on Facebook. Social media are primarily Internet and mobile-based tools for sharing information, interacting, and building relationships among individuals. Social media encompasses interactions that take place between individuals who incorporate the use of different technologies, telecommunication, and social relations. According to Brogan (2010), people are necessary to make conversations happen, which is the overall purpose of social media, to “empower and enable conversations digitally” (p. 1). Forms of social media include blogging, podcasting, video blogging, and all other various social networks. Each of these is designed to give society a way to reach out and connect with others. People like to engage in social media to feel like they are being heard and that their thoughts and feelings are respected (Brogan, 2010). 

Cultivation Theory

Cultivation theory, in its most basic form, suggests that media is responsible for shaping or “cultivating” viewers’ conceptions of social reality. The combined effect of mass media exposure by viewers over time subtly shapes the perception of social reality for individuals and, ultimately, for our culture as a whole (Gerbner, 1998). One of the key principles behind cultivation theory is repeated exposure.  It is suggested that the more time an individual spends in the television world, then the more likely that individual is going to report having social realities that are congruent with the social realities seen on television (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1980). Cultivation theory is significant in mass communication. It states if a heavy viewer is exposed to more violence content eventually effected by the Mean World

Syndrome, an idea that the world is worse than it actually is. That the viewer will tend to act on what they perceive is a threat and are more willing to take violent action to protect oneself. (Gerbner and Gross, 1976). It showed that prolonged exposure to television will affect the concept of social realities of the viewer. According to Shrum “In general, the relation between viewing and various types of judgments are modest but reliable (Shrum et al. 2011 pg. 37).”

The emergence of the Internet has changed peoples’ media usage. As the Internet can also perform the function of television, it is possible for it to have cultivation effects and is worth being discussed in this study. According to North, Gerbner has a theory called “Mainstreaming”. According to north it is an idea that our views are shaped from long consistent exposure to social media (Gerbner, 1998). It states that the longer we are exposed to certain views and ideologies it can influence other factors (Gerbner, 1998). Repeated exposure is very important for cultivation to happen. Only from repeated exposure can patterns by stable enough affect your views and ideologies. (Gerbner, 1998). The more exposure that happens through constant messages, people will begin to share views that are in line with what they have been exposed to and that it “Mainstreaming” (Gerbner, 1998) (North, 2011, pg1).

 If we take a look at how social justice issues are presented on social media either by video or pictures they show you something that tugs at your heart strings or something that makes you feel sorry. According to Huang et al. (2012), “It is found that the perceptions of the quality of the content and empathy affect three benefit expectations of control, inclusion, and affection, and these three benefit expectations affected the forwarding intention of the users.  Huang’s study  attempted to show what factors influence us when we share videos and our reasoning behind sharing them. Huang study also showed that people shared videos in order to influence your opinion on certain topics.  

“Some analysts have investigated that the heavy viewers of a particular program tend to visit the respective program’s official website more than the light viewers, who building a better website loyalty. This loyalty leads to an increase in the use of Interactive Online Product Placement, which has a positive influence on the viewer’s attitude toward the sponsor, and their purchase intentions “(Lin and Cho 2010).

This study used cultivation theory as a way to look at viewer’s consumption of a particular brand and how it uses social media and television media to attract customers to look for and buy that particular product.

The following research question and hypothesis guide the study:

RQ1: How does social media affect generational knowledge of sex trafficking through the lens of social media?

H1: I predict that social media usage has a positive correlation with millennials’ and post-millennials’ knowledge of sex trafficking.



The participants for this project were 100 students from Xavier University of Louisiana. An exploratory, descriptive, quantitative instrument was used to gauge students’ awareness, knowledge, and concern of sex trafficking in relation to their use of social media.  According to my data nearly three Quarters (76%) of my participants were Black /African American, (9%) were Asian, (4%) were Native American, (3%) were Caucasian, (3%) were Latino, (2%) were Native Hawaiian, while (3%) were Other. My participants were relatively young (M= 2.31, SD=.53). Those below the age of 18 were (1%), while those ages 18-19 were (69%), those from age 20-23 were (28%), while those ages 24-27 were (2%). For gender the (M= 1.71, SD=.46), females made up (71%) of participants, while males made up (29%) of participants. For my participant’s classification (M=1.59, SD=.83). Freshman made up (59%) of participants, Sophomores made up (27%) of participants, Juniors made up (10%) of participants, while Seniors made up (4%) of participants.


The survey was 20-item Likert-scale and multiple choice questionnaire. The questions were broken into four categories: social media usage (e.g. Why do you use an online social network?), awareness of sex trafficking (e.g. When/if you use social media, do you ever come across political campaigns and/or activists?), knowledge of sex trafficking (e.g. According to the Department of Homeland security which state has the most sex trafficked victims?), and the relationship between social media and sex trafficking (e.g. How do you hear of breaking news in regards to social media?). Demographic data was also collected, including the race, age, gender, and classification in school of participants.


The  surveys were administered in six lower-level Communication Studies classes, including Health Communication, Public Speaking, and Intercultural Communication. They are all core curriculum classes for the oral communication component requirement, and there were a wide range of students from different majors in this core classes. The surveys were carried out over a two-week period. Using a prepared script, I introduced myself, my major, and explained the survey and research project (see Appendix A). Then, I distributed the survey to participating students.


Because of the demographics and types of questions that were asked in this survey it became necessary to run several T-tests and Bivariate Correlations to analyze my results. A t-test is used to show the difference between two means, while a bivariate correlation is used to see how one variable has influence over another variable. In my case does social usage have a positive or negative correlation when it comes to awareness and knowledge of sex trafficking. For my T-tests I looked at age, race, gender, and classification. I ran a total of twenty T-test, one for each question. A paired-samples t-test was conducted to compare social media frequency to social media raising awareness of sex trafficking. There was a significant difference in the scores social media frequency (M=1.22, SD=.70) and awareness (M=1.55, SD=.66); t (99) =-3.87, p = 0.003. These results show that social media has an influence on awareness of sex trafficking

The questions about social media usage section showed me that over seventy-five percent of my survey participants first became aware of sex trafficking or social justice issues through the lens of social media and that most of them are from the post-millennial group. While millennials who made up the remaining twenty-five percent of my data showed fifty percent of them first became aware of social media through the lens of social media, while the remaining twenty-five percent first became aware through college course here at Xavier University. I ran a bivariate correlation on social media frequency and social media raising awareness of sex trafficking my results were that “There was a positive correlation between the social media frequency and social media raising awareness of sex trafficking, r = .88, n =100, p = .3.”

The actual knowledge questions from the survey showed that social media usage had a slight positive correlation to knowledge of social media Two particular questions from the survey needed actual knowledge of sex trafficking in order for participants to answer it correctly. The first question was: “To the best of your knowledge, which three cities in California are hot beds for trafficking?”The second question was:  “To the best of your knowledge what is the average age of trafficked youth in America?” My results showed that sixty percent of participants answered both of them correct. I ran a correlation test on both of these questions along with social media frequency. The first was frequency and California r=.62, n=100, p=.2. The second was frequency and age r=.55, n=100, p=.2. This shows that social media has a slight positive correlation to knowledge of sex trafficking, and it can be used as a tool for educating these media heavy generations about the dangers of sex trafficking. The data also showed that Facebook (24%) and twitter (33%) were the two most used forms of social media among participants.


         H1: I predict that social media usage has a positive correlation with millennials’ and post-millennials’ knowledge of sex trafficking.

The results of my T-test and Bivariate correlations show that my hypothesis is correct. This shows that social media affects knowledge of sex trafficking, and that it has a positive correlation to millennials and post-millennials knowledge of sex trafficking. The 16 questions that dealt with social media usage and sex trafficking knowledge show a slight positive correlation between social media usage and millennials and post-millennials knowledge of sex trafficking. It is still significant because now we see how to target this generation and future generations and educate them on trafficking. Because of this, I believe that more data on this subject need to be collected in order to really see how social media affects these two generations’ knowledge of social justice issues. If the same findings can be found again in future case studies, then we can make the claim that social media is significant as a communication tool. With my case study, I do see many limitations. The first one is that female participants greatly outnumbered the male participants. The second was the fact that post-millennials outnumber millennials in this survey. The third was not being able to administer my survey to a much larger student population at Xavier University. My suggestion for future research is that Communication Studies and other communication disciplines can use my case study as a stepping stone to not only to educate but to raise awareness of social justice issues amongst our generations and future generations. We can no longer leave our fate in the hands of those older than we are. This is not their future problem; it is ours. Overall, I think that this topic of social media will remain very relevant for communications majors. Social media has allowed us to communicate faster than ever before. It has slowly evolved from a minor form of communicating to the communication of choice for two generations and it will continue to grow with us.

Appendix A 

Letter of Informed Consent

Social Media and Sex Trafficking Survey

You are invited to participate in a research study investigating millennials and post-millennials and their awareness of sex trafficking through the use of social media. You were selected as a possible participant in this research because you are a member of the general public. Please read this form before you agree to be in the study. 


If you decide to participate, you will be asked to complete a survey, which will take approximately 10-15 minutes to complete. The survey will include questions asking how much you agree or disagree with specific statements and a brief section with general demographic questions. Approximately 100 participants will be surveyed.

Risks and Benefits of Being in the Study 

There are no known risks in this research. The benefit of participation in this research is up to the discretion of your professor. 


The data from this survey is completely anonymous. The surveys will not contain or ask for any identifying information. Only the researcher named in this form will have access to the surveys. 

Voluntary Nature of the Study 

Participation in this research study is voluntary. If you decide to participate in this research study, you are free to stop at any time. You may also skip any questions that you do not want not to answer. If you do not wish to participate in this study, please exit the survey now. Completing and submitting the survey implies your consent to participate in this research. Once you have submitted your survey, there is no way to exclude your data from the project as surveys and data are anonymous. 

Contacts and Questions 

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the researcher listed above.

Sign to indicate your willingness to participate.

Full name       


Appendix B 

Social Media and Sex Trafficking Survey 


1. Please specify your gender

  • Male
  • Female

2. Please specify your age

  • Under 18 years
  • 18-19
  • 20-23
  • 24-27
  • 28-36
  • 37+

3. What is your race/ethnicity?

  • American Indian or Native Alaskan
  • Asian
  • Black or African American
  • Caucasian
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
  • Other (please indicate: _____________________)

4. What is your classification?

  • Freshman
  • Sophomore
  • Junior
  • Senior
  • Graduate student

Social Media Usage:

5. Which of the following social media networks do you have an account on? (you may indicate more than one)

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Other (please indicate: _____________________)
  • I do not have a social media account.

6. Which of the following social media networks do you use most often? (choose one)

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Other (please indicate: _____________________)
  • I do not have a social media account.

7. How frequently do you use social media?

  • Daily
  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Almost never
  • I do not have a social media account.

8. If you use social media daily, how many total hours do you spend each day?

  • Less than 1 hour per day
  • 1- 4 hours per day
  • 5- 10 hours per day
  • 11- 15 hours per day
  • More than 15 hours per day
  • I do not use social media daily.

9. How often do social justice issues appear on the social media network you use the most?

  • Very Often
  • Often
  • Occasionally
  • Rarely
  • Never (I have never seen a social justice issue on my social media network)

10. Through what source do you most often hear about social justice issues?

  • Social media
  • Television news (ex: CNN or Anderson Cooper).
  • Print media
  • Internet searches
  • Family or friends

11. Social media has raised my awareness of a particular social justice issue?

  • Strongly Agree
  • Agree
  • Neutral
  • Disagree
  • Strongly Disagree

12. In your opinion, what is the most effective way to raise awareness of a social justice issue?

  • Social media 
  • Traditional media
  • Public protest/demonstrations
  • Word of mouth
  • Other (__________________________)

 Sex Trafficking Knowledge:

13.  How much do you know about sex trafficking?

  • I consider myself very knowledgeable about this subject.
  • I know some but not all of the information surrounding this subject.
  • I don’t know very much about this subject.
  • I don’t know what sex trafficking is.

14. Where did you first see information on sex trafficking?

  • Social Media
  • College course (Name the course: ____________)
  • Television (Ex. News, TV Shows, Movies)
  • Other (please indicate: _____________________)
  • I have never seen information on sex trafficking.

15. What do you think is the primary cause or push factor behind the growing problem of sex trafficking?

  • Poverty
  • Sex
  • Preventative education
  • Not enough people care about the issue

16.   To the best of your knowledge which of these states has the most trafficked victims?

  • California
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Louisiana

17.  To the best of your knowledge did sex trafficking increase or decrease in 2016?

  • Increased
  • Decreased

18.  To the best of your knowledge what is the average age of trafficked youth in America?

  • 12-14
  • 14-16
  • 16-18
  • 18-20

19.  To the best of your knowledge how many victims are sex trafficked into America annually?

  • less than 5,000
  • approximately 10,000
  • approximately 17,000
  • more than 25,000

20.   To the best of your knowledge which three cities in California are hot beds for trafficking?

  • Sacramento, Oakland, San Jose
  • San Diego, Pasadena, Huntington Beach
  • Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Francisco
  • Pasadena, Oakland, San Jose
  • Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco


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