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March Of The Penguins: Kids Take Political Activism To Virtual World

In the days following the presidential election, people have taken to the streets and to social media to protest the results. Not just on Twitter and Facebook, but also on an unexpected platform.

Some people opened their computers and logged on to their social media channel of choice: Club Penguin, a Walt Disney Co. affiliate that's a virtual world designed for young kids.

The 11-year-old site, which had 200 million users as of 2013, is place where kids gather there to play games, interact, and custom design their own igloos. Virtual penguins make custom pizzas, play ice hockey, have care-free snowball fights — and now, stage political protests.

On Sunday night, cartoon penguins waddled together, declaring "not my president," "no wall," "I'm with her," and "penguins of color matter," as they voiced their displeasure for Donald Trump. While the virtual protest was overwhelmingly against the president-elect, at least one penguin proclaimed, "I'M WITH HIM."

It isn't clear how this political penguin activity began. Rumblings of protests began early Sunday morning on Twitter, and picked up steam after one tweet gathered over 86,000 retweets. As late as Tuesday morning, lingering signs of protest could be seen near the local virtual coffee shop. It isn't clear whether the user who started the protest was a young kid or someone who signed up for a free membership.

The bar for membership includes a penguin name, password, and parent email — which requires the parents to activate the child's new account. After activation, parents can log on to their own Club Penguin portal to learn more about the safety features of the virtual world. However, feasibly anyone who has an email address could log on.

Kate Bell, a student at the George Washington University, revisited her old middle school account to see what all the squawking was about. When her penguin arrived at the town square she was amazed by the activism. "If Club Penguin is a medium that allows the younger generation to amplify their voice, one that is typically overlooked, I think it's great," Bell says.

Club Penguin users express their opinions on the results of the election, including one seeming to support Donald Trump with the message "I'M WITH HIM."
Club Penguin / Screenshot by NPR
Screenshot by NPR
Club Penguin users express their opinions on the results of the election, including one seeming to support Donald Trump with the message "I'M WITH HIM."

Regardless of who did log on, it is interesting to note such political activity in a space designed for kids to have fun, in a safe and protected space online. This isn't the first instance of kids or teenagers not of voting age to react publicly to the election results. Earlier this week middle school and high school students in Montgomery County, Maryland and the District of Columbia walked out in protest of Trump.

While the focus may be on these large-scale walkouts of almost voting age or voting-age millennials, elementary and middle school children are also expressing their opinions. In Austin, Texas, Laura Donnelly Gonzalez, the co-founder and chief operating officer of Latinitas, a digital magazine aimed at empowering young Latina students through media and technology, tells NPR that the students she meets with are "sharing their devastation together."

"What drove the vote doesn't represent their reality," Gonzalez says. While some girls in the group feel "unconscious" to what the election result means, she says, many of them express fear and wonder what might happen to their families. Gonzalez and the Latinitas group members continue to express themselves on that site.

We reached out to Club Penguin and as of publication time we have not heard back.

Laura Roman is the social media intern at NPR.

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