Meet the Activists Using Social Media to Turn Hashtags Into Rallying Cries

Influential activists are now using social media for issues they care about.

— -- When 20-year-old Sergio Mejia stood on a busy street corner in southern California raising his arms in prayer for Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, he quickly drew a crowd.

“Thank you for this man who raises his hands for those suffering,” one young girl on the video is heard telling Mejia. Another, overcome with emotion, wept against his chest.

And when Mejia uploaded the video for his hundreds of thousands of YouTube subscribers, he received thousands of messages of support in return.

“I don’t want it to just stop there. I want them to see my video and feel something inside or build enough courage to do something similar or something like it,” Mejia said in a YouTube video about the support he received.

Mejia is just one of many savvy activists now using social media to discuss issues they care about and making the hashtag their new rallying cry.

Social media now plays an important role in influencing the opinions of millennials, who are the largest rising generation in U.S. history. So “Nightline” recently invited a diverse and vocal group of thirteen influencers to come offline and chat face to face about this critical election year. We wanted to hear what they think we as a nation should get worked up about.

“It’s also the fact that a man -- a white man -- comes to a movie theater and shoots up the place and we don’t call it a terrorist act. A white man comes into a black church and shoots up the place and we don’t call it a terrorist act. These are all terrorist acts, but the unfortunate thing is that once there’s any hint of Islam then (it) automatically becomes a terrorist act and that kind of association -- there’s a double standard,” Mohamed Ali, the communications and social media manager for the United Muslim Relief foundation, told “Nightline.”

On the other hand, David Bozell, the executive director, which is one of the largest conservative online communities with almost eight million followers, said the issue has nothing to do with ISIS being associated with Muslims.

Over the course of two hours, the group debated on a host of issues. In the aftermath of that massacre in San Bernardino and the mass shootings in Colorado Springs and Charleston, gun control remains a hot-button topic.

Krystie Messenger is a Youtube sensation who teaches women how to shoot. She argues that the government should focus on the shooters and not guns.

“If someone wants to do you harm, they’re going to cause you harm whether they have a firearm or a spoon” she told "Nightline."

On the subject of national security, Will Ackerly, a former NSA analyst, and Jack Blakely of the Young Republican National Federation both agree that it’s not worth sacrificing the privacy of the individual, but they also both consider Edward Snowden a traitor.

“I think he was naive at best,” Ackerly said. “I’m confused at why if he was a true patriot, he would do what he did.”

Blakely said Snowden’s decision to release national intelligence, “cuts us off at the knees and open us to great risk.”

But the most divisive issue? Abortion.

Lila Rose, one of the new faces of the anti-abortion movement whose organization Live Action has over one million Facebook followers, called Planned Parenthood “the biggest abortion chain in the country.”

“It’s the biggest healthcare provider for women in the country,” Elizabeth Plank, a self-described super feminist known for her online activism and her web series, “Flip the Script,” countered. “Planned Parenthood actually prevents abortion. If you shut down Planned Parenthood, you can bet dollars over doughnuts that the rate of abortion is going to go up in this country and the rate of dangerous abortions that puts women’s health and lives at risk.”

“Over half of [Live Action’s followers] are young people who are in their teens and early 20’s, and that’s an increasing demographic, as millennials identify as pro-life. We have the technology. We see the window to the womb. It’s not just rhetoric. It’s actually reality. This is a human life,” Rose told “Nightline.”

While they may not share the same opinions, the activists say that they hold the freedom to exchange ideas and to express themselves in the highest esteem. They all believe that it’s what will help them shape their version of the American Dream.

“I think that a lot of what makes America great is the fact that we can all sit in this room and might not agree on everything,” Annie Clark, a sexual assault survivor and the co-founder of the survivor advocacy group, End Rape on Campus, told “Nightline.” “But we can have a civil conversation and sometimes that’s not reflected in what we see on TV.”

And now it’s your turn. Please visit the "Nightline" Facebook page and tell us what you think are the most important issues facing our nation today.