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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds One of the interesting things from us

Skip to 0 minutes and 12 seconds is what seems like a sort of paradox: so there are lots of criticism that young people are not

Skip to 0 minutes and 18 seconds interested in politics anymore: they don’t vote, they don’t join parties, and if you ask them what they think about politicians then you get a very rude set of responses. So a lot of people blame young people for not supporting democracy and not actually participating in it. But ironically, and somewhat paradoxically, actually young people are more active than they have ever been in what we think of as political activity, but it is not necessarily mainstream political activity. They are much more likely to demonstrate, for example, or they are much more likely to join campaigns.

Skip to 0 minutes and 55 seconds They are more likely to be ethical consumers: for example, they might boycott some products and buy other kinds of products. So in that sense they are very engaged, perhaps, you know, deeply interested in the world around them and what affects them. And what’s particularly of interest to us is how social media and the internet may be facilitating these new forms of engagement.

Skip to 1 minute and 23 seconds For a long long time, research has consistently said that social inequality hugely influences and determines whether people are likely to participate in politics and have an interest in politics. And those from lower socio-economic statuses tend to be less likely to engage. And that problem has become more and more exacerbated as social inequality has grown in many of our societies. So this is a really big concern, it’s a real worry for our democratic politics because if people do not engage in democratic politics then it loses its legitimacy. So then this is really important. And what we found was that actually social media, and those spaces that young people were engaging in, did in fact equalise those situations.

Skip to 2 minutes and 19 seconds So people who were from families where the parents, for example, were less likely to be educated at a higher level, were still likely to engage online. So there was a definite sense of an equalising. We need more research of course, as ever, to reinforce those findings, but they are highly significant findings.

Skip to 2 minutes and 47 seconds We asked them in the survey what kinds of social media they used and you may not be surprised to know that almost all of them use Facebook. Twitter they use much less than Facebook and that’s consistent with other results as well. Quite a lot of other things like Snapchat and Instagram were coming up more and more, but they were less well developed when we did the research. But even today Facebook is overwhelmingly the space that they use most. Many of them said they didn’t like Facebook but there was no choice – that was the space where everybody was so that was where you went.

Skip to 3 minutes and 21 seconds Of course they used it for different types of things: one of the key things they used Facebook for

Skip to 3 minutes and 25 seconds was gaining information: what their peers and friends are doing.

Skip to 3 minutes and 29 seconds In a political sense, it’s “what are they thinking?”: what information are they sharing about material and issues that are there? Quite a lot of the political information and discussion was done in a very informal way but that’s a key issue in how we understand politics, how we get to learn about politics. We learn it from informal social situations, we don’t necessarily learn it all through formal classrooms. Those that were very into politics again tended to be much more dutiful in their orientations and the way they looked at politics, and they were more likely to be members of parties and voting. So they saw it in very instrumental, conventional political terms.

Skip to 4 minutes and 16 seconds Quite a lot of others who we describe as ‘self actualising’, they were kind of more interested in using it for projects and doing things. So they liked campaigning for example, and they thought it could make a difference. They liked sharing ideas; they enjoyed the kind of satire they could send round in YouTube clips and things like that, particularly during campaign times. So yes, quite a lot of them were quite affirmative. There was a significant number of young people, maybe quarter of our sample, who were not interested and didn’t seem particularly interested in politics or political issues at all, and therefore didn’t use social media for any of those types of things.

Skip to 4 minutes and 57 seconds Now we think those groups are really significant and one of the difficulties with those groups of people is they don’t seem to fit within any of the kind of political, social, scientific models. So they get left behind, they get left out and it’s exactly those kinds of people, for example, who have been extremely prevalent in populist politics in the last two, three years, in many countries including the UK.

Skip to 5 minutes and 24 seconds Brexit for example: many of the voters who voted for Brexit quite often said that they felt left behind and that there was no voice for them and they had no place. And I think it’s that group who came up in our results as well. So I think that they are a significant group and we need to find ways to get in touch with them and give them a voice, and see whether or not the media can facilitate them.

Using social media for political engagement

Young people aren’t interested in politics anymore. They don’t vote, they don’t join political parties, and they don’t trust politicians in the slightest. For instance, the Financial Times blog, in its analysis of voting trends in the United Kingdom’s 2016 European Union referendum, noted that:

The generational divide on Brexit [Britain’s exit from the EU] has been common knowledge throughout the campaign, and is apparent in the demographic data, even if only weakly. Had turnout been higher among younger people its influence would have been even greater, but as is usually the case, there was a slight general trend for turnout to increase in line with average age.

But is it true that young people are apolitical? Or is it just that their political engagement with society is conducted through different means than the polling booth? Are boycotts and ethical trading more important to young people than the democratic process and party politics? In this video, political sociologist Brian Loader takes a look at what his own research reveals about political engagement among young people, and the role social media has to play in that engagement.

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This video is from the free online course:

Becoming a Digital Citizen: an Introduction to the Digital Society

University of York