By Lillian Mongeau
Nearly seven million young people will be newly eligible to vote this November. And contrary to what most might think, a recent study of how these voters engage in politics using new media shows they're paying close attention.
“A lot of what we’re trying to understand is the way in which [using new media] might be related to the ways in which young people are being active politically,” said the study’s co-author, Joseph Kahne.
Of the 3,000 young people age 15-25 surveyed in the study, Participatory Politics: New Media and Youth Political Action, 41 percent reported using these online activities to engage in political discussions or actions. That could be anything from sharing a video of Mitt Romney giving a speech to the NAACP, to signing a petition on Change.org asking Seventeen Magazine to quit photo-shopping pictures of its models, to tweeting about the violence in Syria.
“Lots of the sort of fundamental things that people have to do to be politically active happen online” now, said Kahne, a professor at Mills College in Oakland, California, who's part of the MacArthur Research Network on Youth & Participatory Politics (YPP). “If they think that sending an email to their friends is the same as showing up and voting, that could be a problem. But in fact, what we found in our study is that young people who were engaged in participatory politics were twice as likely to report voting as people who weren’t engaged.”
Last winter, “online activism” became the subject of searing critique after a video about African warlord Joseph Kony made the rounds. The error-ridden video racked up close to 20 million views on YouTube and Vimeo in just a few days and raised millions in real dollars for the non-profit that produced it. Critics were quick to site ill-informed youth as the primary culprits.