Social media and youth disengagement within democracy.

Introduction

“At present it seems that the Internet is having a negligible effect on young people’s overall level of political participation”.

– Aaron Martin (2013)

Disengagement addresses the possible opposing tendencies in social media and wider society that could serve to undermine democratic potential in the lives of young people. We felt it important to address the limitations of social media within this report, as despite the numerous examples of young people’s empowerment through digital media, questions still remain about the effectiveness of such forms of participation – whether it can be sustained beyond the occasional bursts of activity surrounding extraordinary events – elections, for example – how quality or meaningful the engagement is, as well as how it may affect offline participation.

Furthermore, many are sceptical that the Internet is mobilising young people who are not already engaged in politics: “Internet-based activities are likely to be more useful in expanding the activities of youth already engaged in civic life, rather than encouraging those who do not participate to become involved” (Montgomery, 2008). Sonia Livingstone (2007) states “there is a gap between the opportunities to participate online and the degree to which young people take up these opportunities”.

Disengagement, non-participation, disenchantment, ignorance, apathy – there are many terms we can use to label to the practice of withdrawing oneself from public debate or formal democratic processes such as voting. Many academics, such as Colin Hay, also ponder whether it’s even possible to completely disengage with democracy now that it has become so entrenched through the laws, practices and values we see in many Western countries such as Australia.

“Despite all the admonishments to participate, we must acknowledge, however, that from the standpoint of citizens themselves there can be many good reasons not to do so” (Dahlgren, 2009).

As populations in Western countries continued increase, some people feel that “the mechanisms of democracy do not allow for their view to have much impact” (Dahlgren, 2009, p: 16). Often-cited reasons for disengagement include “feelings of powerlessness” and “cynicism about how politics works” (Dahlgren, 2009, p: 16).