A large segment of today’s youth, regardless of race or ethnic group, now actively exercise their political muscle online, says a new study from the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP).
Surveying 3,000 people between the ages of 15 and 25, the study found that in the last year, 41 percent engaged in some form of digitally-based political activity, such as starting an online political group, writing or passing along a political blog, or sharing political videos. Specifically, 43 percent of white, 41 percent of black, 38 percent of Latino, and 36 percent of Asian American youth took part in at least one act of participatory politics during the prior 12 months, says “Youth & Participatory Politics.” The report defines participatory politics as “interactive, peer-based acts through which individuals and groups seek to exert both voice and influence on issues of public concern.”
Unlike prior studies of youth and media, the report says this one includes large numbers of black, Latino, and Asian American respondents, which “allow for unique and powerful statistical comparisons across race with a focus on young people.”
Interestingly, it finds that contrary to reports of a digital divide, large proportions of young people across racial and ethnic groups have access to the Internet and use online social media regularly to stay connected to their family and friends, and to pursue interests and hobbies. The study says 96 percent of white, 94 percent of black, 96 percent of Latino, and 98 percent of Asian American youth report having access to an Internet-connected computer. Those youth who engaged in at least one participatory political act also were almost twice as likely to report voting in 2010, as those who didn’t.
Of particular interest to school librarians is the fact that young people tend to get their news through participatory channels but believe they’d benefit from learning how to judge the credibility of what they find online, says the report.
“When we asked young people if they thought they and their friends would benefit from learning more about how to tell if online information was trustworthy, 84 percent said ‘Yes!,’ says YPP Chair Joseph Kahne, one of the study’s principal investigators and an education professor at Mills College in Oakland, CA, in a release. “In massive numbers, youth are saying they need help with digital media literacy.”
In fact, the study showed that youth get news almost as often from social media channels as they do from traditional avenues, with 45 percent saying their information comes at least once a week from Twitter or Facebook feeds through friends or family, compared to 49 percent who say they get their information from newspapers or magazines at least once a week.
With the presidential election heating up, students are turning to online channels to learn about the political environment and to engage in the process, giving educators an opportunity to help kids understand and develop critical thinking skills that they can take with them as they grow into mature digital citizens.
“Participatory politics are an important avenue to provide young people with a level of voice and control not often seen in the realm of institutional politics,” the report concludes. “This is a unique and important moment. If stakeholders at multiple levels provide appropriate supports, participatory politics may provide valuable opportunities to engage young people in the political realm, giving them greater control, voice, and potentially influence over the issues that matter most in their lives.”