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Life Tell a story, change the world? How stories create social impact

The Globe and Mail and We Charity have partnered to promote media literacy and education around global issues. This is part of a series of discussion guides and videos for parents and their children to read, watch and discuss together.


Reality – or our perception of it – is shaped by the stories we read and share. This has been true since long before the term “fake news” existed. “From the time we are children, we hear stories about the way the world ought to work: Whom should we trust? Whom should we fear? These are social narratives passed down like bedtime stories across generations, telling us how to live, and what to expect,” author Derek Thompson told PBS NewsHour (learn more by watching the full video here). “Movies like Frozen can teach us female empowerment; movies like 1915’s The Birth of a Nation can teach us prejudice.”

Such stories inform and reinforce the narratives we follow in our day-to-day lives, as well. For example, continues Thompson, a senior editor at The Atlantic, “In an office, loud women are ‘bossy,’ but loud men are ‘assertive.’” In other words, he says, the stories we tell each other, whether they be in the form of news articles or novels, social media updates or feature films, “are weapons, for good or ill.” Social activists choose the former, using stories as a springboard to create social change.

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Here’s an example close to home: The story of the life and death of Iqbal Masih, a boy who stood up to fight child labour that he experienced firsthand, sparked the founding of the WE organization. Upon reading an article about Iqbal in the newspaper one morning, 12-year-old Craig Kielburger was compelled to share the stories of child labourers and also to lobby for an end to child labour. More than 20 years on, WE now also tells the stories of children who are overcoming barriers that prevent them from attending school and of young people who are working to change their world locally and globally.

Other stories from both Canada and abroad that have inspired social change include:

True story

We are all storytellers – through our communication with others in-person and online, through the way we choose to spend our free time and through the way we express ourselves with the arts.

Even better than the real thing?

Twitter users are 70 per cent more likely to share fake news than bona fide accounts, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study.

Conversation starters

  1. On August 24, 2017, Brandon Stanton, the creator of the photoblog Humans of New York, announced that Humans of New York will now air on Facebook as a video series. Stanton believes “video adds a deeper layer” and provides a closer opportunity to “actually be there.” Do you agree? Discuss which storytelling medium holds the most power.
  2. Choose a story to discuss as a family; it can be a short story, a novel, a film or a news account. Ask each other:
  • What are the key facts of the story?
  • Whose story is it? (Consider whose story it was initially and whether it became part of a larger collective story. Identify whose collective story it is a part of.)
  • What feelings does it evoke in the people who consume the story?
  • What makes this story powerful?
  • Can this story change the world?
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