File Name: information and expression in a digital age modeling internet effects on civic participation .zip
Given the profound impact of social media on civic activism, as demonstrated by the BlackLivesMatter and MeToo movements, the current study aimed to examine the factors that influence the public to engage in civic activism on social media platforms. This study used the responses from 4, social media users who participated in the American Trends Survey Wave 35 conducted by Pew Research Center. The dataset was analyzed using hierarchical regression. The results suggest that respondents who were younger, female, White and liberal were more likely to participate in activism-related behaviors, such as using hashtags, changing profile pictures and participating in groups with shared interests in political and social issues.
New Media and Youth Political Engagement
This article critically examines the role new media can play in the political engagement of young people in Australia. First, that there is a well-established model of contemporary political mobilisation that employs both new media and large data analysis that can and have been effectively applied to young people in electoral and non-electoral contexts.
Second, that new media, and particularly social media, are not democratic by nature. Their general use and adoption by young and older people do not necessarily cultivate democratic values. The article argues that a focus on scale as drivers of influence, the underlying foundation of their affordances based on algorithms, and the centralised editorial control of these platforms make them highly participative, but unequal sites for political socialisation and practice.
Thus, recent examples of youth mobilisation, such as seen in recent climate justice movements, should be seen through the lens of cycles of contestation, rather than as technologically determined. At the turn of the century, considerable interest was focused on new internet-based technologies and their potential to stimulate democratic improvements around the world. This link was assumed possible through a combination of technological determinism, which assumes that technologies shape sociopolitical environments and cultural values Winner , along with a strong emphasis on the capacity of individual agency to overcome economic and political challenges Ferdinand As such, a decentralised and unregulated internet was assumed a technology that promoted freedom of speech, personal expression and the free exchange of political discourse among open societies.
They no longer need to be consumers and passive spectators. They can become creators and primary subjects. Equally, similar sentiment was echoed in the deliverance of e-democracy as a means to afford previously passive audience a virtual platform to engage with their elected representatives and the state.
Of course, the belief in the internet as a democratising force and a driver of political engagement was not a universal view, then or now. However, it was the dominant view and shaped an ideal of the internet as both a driver of democracy and a means to uphold communication between people and power.
Nonetheless, due to the very nature of internet technologies and their propensity to afford or prohibit certain behaviours, it is unlikely that enhanced meaningful democratic participation is a function of increased use of contemporary dominant internet media forms.
As such, this article contests the assumption that internet-based technologies democratise and promote political engagement by focusing on the increased prevalence among Australian youth. Examples, like climate action protests, are cited and problematised. This article argues that internet technologies should be more commonly associated with political disengagement and concerns about democratic participation, rather than being touted as a liberating and participatory force.
Due to its diverse meanings, and its applications subject to endless contestation Spicer , democracy is an essentially contested concept. The discussion of democracy in this article focuses on a maximalist value of equality over other values, such as maximal individual liberty.
In contrast, a maximalist view of democracy equally emphasises the production of democratic culture and institutions that promote just outcomes that sustain democratic practice. This sees generalised civic culture as important in developing practices by citizens that are realised through or by institutions that permit democratic modes of expression and collective action. This is important as recent challenges to individual well-being have collective origins climate, pandemic, economic inequality.
As such, it is complementary to a study of youth participation in the political processes of evolved democracies, such as Australia, and the internet-based technologies that afford them access.
In recent times, youth participation in democratic processes has been subject to controversy. Krinsky notes that it is unremarkable that young people are often the focus of media and moral panics.
This reductionist view is commonly associated with lower formal participation rates, particularly voting, but also membership in key institutions like political parties Milner The second and third crises pertain to the increasing levels of structural inequality and the inability of the posts neoliberal economic model—with a focus on egoistic individualism, and the resultant social and political acceptance of enduring and reproducing inequality Nozick —to ameliorate the causes of, resultant social conflict over, the environmental crisis.
While these last two are empirical facts, the former is more contestable. These types of findings are often reported in the media in rejectionist terms that overreads the data set and does not interrogate its context. This type of coverage commonly is predicated on a discourse that young people are expected to perform a high degree of nativity about the political world, which, when displayed by older people, is attributed to pragmatism and experience.
At the core of this is an implicit message that the status quo must be observed as a normative good. Thus, young people are at the intersection of multiple fast and slow-moving crises, real or phantasmagorical. Yet, with higher levels of concern for issues of social and climate justice Sealey and McKenzie , it becomes critical for them to have the capacity to engage in political practices and advance these concerns and question the foundations of political practice that have created or contributed to these social problems.
Therefore, contestable claims about current and potential democratic capacity have to be explored, particularly in the context of claims about technologies that afford or impede on youth participation. Affordances are important because of the way they encourage, allow, discourage and prevent particular behaviours.
These can be deliberately or accidentally designed into a technology, be visible, or concealed Livingstone and Das From the late s onwards, the very nature of the internet—as a tool to communicate, aggregate and coordinate—has been associated with its democratising potential.
Therefore, at first instance, it appears logical to assume that contemporary youth, who have grown alongside these evolving technologies, would employ the internet as a communication tool to engage with political discourse, much in the same way that low-cost printing played an important role in youth politics of the s and s. Nonetheless, affordances not only have the ability to promote an engagement in political discourse, the design of certain technologies can also hinder participation.
Equally, contestable are claims about the impacts of the technology such as deterritorialisation, or the notion that these technologies may separate the individual from the physical context as a primary definer of their social, economic and cultural needs Chen Virtual violence and harassment in online spaces have forcefully attempted to exclude these marginalised groups from the digital public sphere and are well-documented.
In this context, youth within established democracies, despite having access to these virtual public spheres, form a part of not only the subaltern identity due to their cultural standing, but also the repression they experience from institutions such as the education system Spivak As such, their participation, much like any other faction of subaltern society, is intensely contested Hartounian ; Dhrodia In thinking about social media from the perspective of democratic affordances, it is important to consider the political implications of its underlying technological and intuitional characteristics Howard and Parks That is, social media is largely only possible because of its reliance on large database systems that afford horizontal visibility within peer groups.
Thus, it is unsurprising that social media has been politically useful in the processes of political mobilisation. As evidenced in the work of groups like GetUp!
Equally, Xenos et al. Based on a survey of young people 16—29 in the USA, UK and Australia, and drawn from online panels, they argued that social media was positively related to increase political participation and produce a good regression analysis in support of this claim. The deterministic interpretation of this research can be contested, however. This leaves open the real possibility as the authors identify that their observations about technology use and political participation may be an expression of some other unmeasured causal agents, or that tool use is epiphenomenal to the connection between political interest and expression that would occur in any other socio-technical setting.
Thus, the actual relationship remains open for investigation, and youth engagement in political participation on the internet is questionable, opening up the potential to explore how the use of social media and other internet-based technologies could mobilise youths into political engagement. Recent attention has particularly been paid to youth mobilisations around climate issues, including the role of young people as leadership figures i.
Greta Thunberg and peer mobilisation using new media Collin and McCormack These observations are commonly placed into the now-familiar causal narrative of new media as inherently facilitative of collective action.
However, until end-to-end case research is conducted, caution needs to be taken in ascribing causation. That is, participants may take a bus to participate in a demonstration.
However, the bus itself has little to do with political action, much in the same way that social media might not necessarily be the driver for collective action.
More specifically, to argue that social media was the driver behind climate youth protests remains a mostly correlative explanation when dealing with a population so ensconced in a mediated lifeworld, a reality in which all the immediate experiences of an individual are directly impacted and influenced by evolving media technologies. Many of these mobilisation case examples are embedded in established social movement industries and, importantly, are not outside the scale of mobilisations seen in pre-internet youthled movements during the Cold War.
Equally, we could argue that established collective action theory might be hierarchically higher than social media-specific theorising in explaining case examples, as it provides a better-substantiated explanation of a greater number of recurrent phenomena. Collin , for example, argues that claims about youth disengagement are exaggerated.
While longitudinal data on social media and volunteering in Australia is scarce and unreliable Walsh and Black , internationally, there is evidence that increased volunteering rates pre-date widespread internet adoption and may be associated with motivations like experience-gathering to enhance employability or college entry Jones Again, membership and volunteering may now be afforded via online channels, but this does not demonstrate a causal connection between the means and social practice.
These benefits are now seen outside of these explicitly political groups with post-war consumer culture, hyperpluralism and social diversification. While participation in the activities of formal political institutions is essential in liberal democracies, a decline in interest in more conventional models of government presents problems in realising political wins or accepting political compromises, the importance of linking these types of rights and recognition concerns with just structural outcomes Fraser Each is discussed in turn.
Movement politics tend towards fluid structures which more commonly produce flexible adhocracy. While these non-hierarchal power structures are an established advantage of movements, giving them the flexibility, dynamism and resistance to repression, reliance on adhocracy may not produce democratic socialisation. Therefore, they are less, not more, likely to consider democratic norms and suffer from low accountability and less-drawing potential.
New media, in undermining the cultural dominance of mass political media, has played an essential part in this process. As a type of networked politics, horizontal visibility can be low. This reinforces findings that social networks may not create social capital as anticipated Valenzuela et al. Indeed, there are concerns that high levels of social media consumption may be alienating Hunt et al.
As Uldam and Vestergaard argue, there is a need to refocus on civic participation beyond movement-based and protest-focused analysis. Image is not action, and considerable over-attention to visible movement action raises questions about the extent to which the transition from expressive politics to agenda building to policy design, implementation and monitoring occurs.
To understand the relationship between social media and democratic practice, we need to determine what type of practice space social media affords. More specifically, the attraction of online media theorists to Habermasian deliberation may not have been the right choice because this particular democratic model emphasises early parts of the policy process over later aspects of it highlighted above. Thus, rather than see the commercial social media platforms as public spheres true sandboxes , we can see them as sites with non-trivial visible and invisible geographies of power that not only provide political affordances, but also shape social expectation of social media citizenship.
This has implications for participation in and through these systems due to the role that surveillance plays in creating self-censorship, and the way preference engines generate sameness in the information consumed by individuals. These tendencies—in stark contrast to the view of information in markets as facilitating fair exchange, or the free-speech ethos maintained by the entrepreneurs who run social media enterprises—are problematic for democratic participation.
This is due to the reduced capacity for preference formation attacking performative aspects of speech practice and preference realisation via the selective satisfaction of wants at low cost.
This impact should be concerning to developmental democrats. Dahl , for example, emphasis on the processes of preference formation as a critical aspect of developmental citizenship, something that continues life long, but is vital in the transition into civic life in youth.
Preference formation is both an individualised practice, in that it is a developmentally acquired skill that individuals exhibit different levels of capacity in, and a collective capacity under conditions of equality. Specifically, discourse within groups develops the capacity of the group to undertake political discourse through observation and the presence of relevant information. From a preference realisation perspective, the existence of these so-called preference-knowing machines has implications for human agency.
This observation is made because surveillance capitalism, unlike traditional top-down political paternalism exhibited in democratic and authoritarian societies, is fully compatible with high levels of perceived individual efficacy. Thus, efficacy is obtained in these surveillance regimes. Significantly, this is achieved not through the type of agency commonly associated with democratic participation, rather a negative agency, surrendering to the panoptic view in recognition of its capacity to service the individual within very narrow and uncontested spheres.
This exchange has a psychic cost. Hoffmann et al. The naturalisation of the technologies underpinning these management systems, be they in liberal democracies or authoritarian regimes, further erodes the capacity of users to express consent with legitimacy implications important in democratic regimes and participate in process design, eroding the capacity for the transference of democratic capacity into other areas of life.
Socialisation within these systems of expectations thus displaces developmental citizenship as citizens are increasingly embedded in these systems of affordance. Attempts to create and propagate participative platforms advocated at this time significantly failed through a combination of low utilisation and limited state interest in cultivating and connecting with them.
Where participative design is undertaken, understanding the constitutive nature of affordances is essential. As mentioned, design choices activate and allow behaviours. Matei and Britt provide a useful analysis of Wikipedia as an example of a platform that uses advocacy, creates a social hierarchy in production, but sustains openness to new entrants, accountability, and has sustained itself in the face of attacks on its primary function of knowledge production.
The Journal of Social Media in Society
Civic engagement or civic participation is any individual or group activity addressing issues of public concern. The goal of civic engagement is to address public concerns and promote the quality of the community. Civic engagement can take many forms—from individual volunteerism , community engagement efforts, organizational involvement and government work such as electoral participation. These engagements may include directly addressing a problem through personal work, community based, or work through the institutions of representative democracy. Civic engagement reform arose at the beginning of the 21st century after Robert Putnam 's book Bowling Alone brought to light changes in civic participation patterns. Putnam argued that despite rapid increases in higher education opportunities that may foster civic engagement, Americans were dropping out of political and organized community life. A number of studies suggested that while more youth are volunteering, fewer are voting or becoming politically engaged.
This article critically examines the role new media can play in the political engagement of young people in Australia. First, that there is a well-established model of contemporary political mobilisation that employs both new media and large data analysis that can and have been effectively applied to young people in electoral and non-electoral contexts. Second, that new media, and particularly social media, are not democratic by nature. Their general use and adoption by young and older people do not necessarily cultivate democratic values. The article argues that a focus on scale as drivers of influence, the underlying foundation of their affordances based on algorithms, and the centralised editorial control of these platforms make them highly participative, but unequal sites for political socialisation and practice. Thus, recent examples of youth mobilisation, such as seen in recent climate justice movements, should be seen through the lens of cycles of contestation, rather than as technologically determined.
All models reveal that online media complement traditional media to foster political discussion and civic messaging. These two forms of political expression, in turn, influence civic participation. Other variable orderings are tested to compare the theorized model to alternative causal specifications.
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