Social media and youth civic engagement within democracy.

 

“We are witnessing a fundamental change in how individuals can interact with their democracy and experience their role as citizens. … They are no longer constrained to occupy the role of mere readers, viewers, and listeners. They can be, instead, participants in a conversation.”

– Yochai Benkler, 2006.

 

The Internet and social media are an effective place to engage young people and make politics more acceptable and interesting for them. The Internet offers a vast opportunity to be politically engaged: “searching for information, at your discretion, from your preferred source, at your preferred time and in your preferred mode” (de Vreese, 2007, p 209). It also allows you to share information and interact with others doing the same. Engagement with peers and expression of political viewpoints have been found to be an extension of young people’s everyday internet and social media use, and when young people choose to engage politically, their everyday digital context is usually their first reference point (Vromen, 2013).Combined with the spread of social media among young people, these new technologies and platforms are helping to reverse the long-term declines in civic and political participation among youth (Bennett, 2008).

 

Youth are in many ways the defining users of new media. Engaging with digital media and online networks has in recent years become embedded in our everyday lives, and it is young users who are “Net natives… they don’t just go online, they live online” (Montgomery, 2008, p.25). So how does this translate into civic engagement? Multiple dimensions such as the online world, offline world, speech, media, protests and petitions all are all important aspects of civic engagement, the online providing a deliberative space for young people. Although some of the above aspects require significantly more effort than others, for the purpose of this report we are including and assessing even ‘low cost’ engagement, such as sharing a post with political content, as they all contribute to being civically engaged in some way.

For young adults, the structure and flexibility of social media and its interactive and informal communication through dialogue can generate the feeling that the Internet provides an informal arena in which they can freely present and share ideas. This interaction created among citizens and between citizens on social media has had an effect on political and social activism, ‘making citizens feel more connected than they do through media such as television or newspapers’ (Vesnic-Alujevic, 2013).

We look at social networking sites and technologies as platforms for youth civic engagement: how they stimulate, connect, express, empower, contribute or simply allow for interaction with the public sphere in significant as well as more informal, everyday ways.