Social media and Youth Political Engagement: A Catalyst for Change

“My name is Freya Bogdanovic and I’m a student in my final year at the University of Birmingham studying Politics and Philosophy. I have always been drawn to the study of politics, it is a subject about the real world, and it affects all of us (no matter how hard some people may try to avoid it).

I can’t emphasise enough the importance of having an understanding of politics; to truly exercise our democratic rights we have to know what we’re voting for!”

Social Media

Social media is a key blockade in the ongoing generational culture war. Typically, younger people love it, and older people don’t understand it. It’s a tale as old as time. Buzzwords such as ‘woke’ can quite easily stir up anger amongst people who were raised before mobile phones, who see this new online world as a dangerous development. Whilst I understand the difficulties of adjusting to new forms of communication and empathise with nostalgia for a simpler past, I think social media gets a bad rap.   

A very important democratic development in politics since the 17th century has been the development of newsprint as it provided accessible information. Social media is an extension of this, Whilst it can be used to keep updated on how your friend from school takes her coffee, it also has information about almost everything at your fingertips. In 2019 one in three people worldwide were on social media, and in the UK over 60% of people aged 16-24 used social media for their news. So, the importance of social media on youth political engagement cannot be understated. 

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“I believe social media has both small-scale power, and large scale power.”

Social media has the power of gathering like-minded people in an online sphere and allowing for their political beliefs to be furthered and deepened. This has been associated with some problems, I must admit. Internet ‘echo chambers’ can mean that people are fed posts which only solidify their current beliefs, without displaying to them the real diversity of beliefs which the world holds. So, it has been blamed for widening the political gap, causing left- and right-wing voters to move further from the centre, and further from political agreements. This antagonistic style of politics is undoubtedly a downfall of the new age of social media.   

Being a student I am a part of a wide community of young voters, however, so I can give a more personal perspective on these issues which are frequently discussed in politics. I undoubtedly see the worry about echo-chambers but believe the incredible democratic power of social media outweighs the associated problems. Let me explain…  

 I believe social media has both small-scale power, and large-scale power. The small-scale power would be the effect it has on individuals, of educating them and encouraging political participation. The large-scale power would be the real political change it can give rise to.  

Young people and Social Media

For young people, social media can have a big impact on their personal engagement in politics. While it may seem a bore to turn on the news or to buy a newspaper, it is part of most young person’s everyday routine to check social media. From there it is inevitable that some form of news will reach them, standing out from the haze of meaningless and mind-numbing crap which, to be honest, is actually all very entertaining.  

So, information is quite unavoidable for most young people, it is passive learning to the max. But from there it’s very easy to educate themselves further of these current affairs, all without leaving the online sphere.   

“Social media is a very powerful tool, in the hands of a powerful new generation, and I believe it should not be underestimated.”

I have friends who are very un-politically active, who are apathetic to the world of politics, who will, quite understandably, mentally clock-out of a conversation if any words like ‘austerity’ or ‘sovereignty’ are used. I have seen these friends discuss with passion a current affair which has been made visible to them through social media. A key event that may be drawn to the minds of readers is the Black Lives Matter movement. The video of George Floyd being unlawfully killed by a police officer in America was spread at lightning speed across social media. Without such technology it is unlikely that a young person in Britain would have even heard about the case, let alone be able to see videos of the event from 10 different angles.   

This is because it is not just a big corporation in charge of what news we’re accessing, with tight controls on broadcasting and with politicians sliding money at them under the table. It’s mainly young people controlling our media instead. That may be a reason some of the older generations see social media as dangerous, it’s like having an underaged driver at the wheel of an expensive car, and we’re driving pretty recklessly. But social media can be the catalyst for important political changes, and young people get to steer it in the right direction.  

The Black Lives Matter movement also makes clear the large-scale effects that social media can have. The upsetting murder of George Floyd was broadcast globally, and social media was used as a mobilising force within the United States. George Floyd’s death sparked protests throughout the country, and even internationally, and social media is what fanned those flames into a raging fire. These protests had young people at the front and centre, and the soap boxes which they had to stand on were a lot higher than they had been in the past. Their voices were heard across the globe. Significant legal changes to police accountability were made within the U.S. as a result of wide-spread backlash to the George Floyd murder. So, while the fight is not over, it demonstrates the extent to which young people and social media can catalyse large-scale political changes. 

Social media is a very powerful tool, in the hands of a powerful new generation, and I believe it should not be underestimated.   

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Written by Freya Bogdanovic

 

Hello, I’m Freya. I’m a student in my final year at the University of Birmingham studying Politics and Philosophy.

I’m working at an honours level expecting a 1:1 degree. I have a high level of political analysis skills and am particularly interested in the study of Political Theory.

I am currently developing my journalistic skills with my key focus being Politics, both nationally and globally, but hope to achieve a broad range of expertise.

Freya