Participatory Politics, New Media and Youth Political Action
* Report: Participatory Politics: New Media and Youth Political Action. By Cathy J. Cohen and Joseph Kahne. MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics, June 2012
= the largest nationally representative study to date of new media and politics among young people.
"A survey of 3,000 young people in the U.S. "shows that contrary to the traditional notion of a technological digital divide, substantial numbers of young people across racial and ethic groups are engaging in "participatory politics" — acts such as starting a political group online, circulating a blog about a political issue, or forwarding political videos to friends. Unlike traditional political acts, participatory acts are interactive, peer-based, and do not defer to elites or formal institutions.
"As the 2012 election approaches, it is important to realize how young people, especially youth of color, are using new media to amplify their voices in the political realm," stated Cathy J. Cohen. "Defying conventional expectations, we found that black youth participate in online forms of participatory politics at rates equal to or slightly higher than white, Latino, and Asian American youth."
"Anyone who cares about democracy needs to pay attention to participatory politics, which spread information, mobilize individuals to act, and provide many ways for youth to voice their perspectives," said Joseph Kahne.
The YPP national survey and analysis of the data was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, whose $100-million digital media and learning initiative aims to determine how digital media are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life.
- Contrary to the notion of a technological digital divide, white (96%), black (94%), Latino (96%) and Asian American (98%) youth report having access to a computer that connects to the Internet.
- 43% of white, 41% of black, 38% of Latino, and 36% of Asian American youth participated in at least one act of participatory politics during the prior 12 months.
- Taking into account participatory politics, institutional politics, and voting, engagement is highest among black youth, with only 25% reporting no engagement in any form of political behavior, compared with 33% of whites, 40% of Asian Americans, and 43% of Latinos.
- Youth believe they would benefit from learning how to judge the credibility of what they find online. Survey respondents were asked, "Do you think people like you and your friends would benefit from learning more about how to tell if news and information you find online is trustworthy?"—84% said, "Yes."
“In the case of media and cultural studies, the report comes as we are seeing sharper distinctions being drawn between different forms of cultural and political participation, where-as on the Political Science side, it emerges from ongoing discussions about the shifting nature of politics as a human activity, especially the shift of focus towards nongovernmental forms of political action.
The report shifts the focus from "Twitter Revolutions," which place the emphasis on new forms of networked technologies, and onto specific sets of political and cultural practices, which deploy those tools in relation to older media technologies, to help redefine the dynamics of political debate and mobilization.
A second key point to make has to do with the relationship between participatory politics and more established and institutionalized forms of politics, a question to which Kahne and Cohen addressed in the interview that accompanies the report's release:
Participatory politics can allow for greater creativity and voice, but voice may not necessarily lead to influence. What sort of shift must occur in order for these practices to become influential?
Kahne: We have thought about this a lot, and it's something we as a field need to learn more about. There is no doubt that practices that amplify the voice of young people are a significant thing, especially given the marginal status that so many young people have in relation to mainstream institutions. Those institutions are places where young people generally don't have significant voice. Participatory politics can give them that voice. At the same time, it's key to realize that if youth are circulating ideas among their networks without understanding how to move from voice to influence, they may well not achieve the goals they value. In our work with youth organizations, digital platforms, and youth themselves, we have to find ways to help youth connect to institutions act strategically to have influence and to put pressure on the places - whether corporate or governmental - to prompt the change youth want to see occur. Cohen: Participatory politics is never meant to displace a focus on institutional politics. We might think of it as a supplemental domain where young people can take part in a dialogue about the issues that matter, think about strategies of mobilization, and do some of that mobilizing collectively online. That said, we have to always recognize that there is important power that exists largely offline. The Occupy movement is a classic example of both participatory politics and offline institutional politics coming together to not only amplify voice but also provide influence and power -- even temporarily -- for a group of primarily young people around class and equality issues.
This new framework for thinking about "Participatory Politics" helps us to make sense of some of the significant findings of the national survey. I can hit on only a few key insights here (read the report for more):
- 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 pursue interests and hobbies.
Contrary to the traditional notion of a technological digital divide, the YPP study finds young people across racial and ethnic groups are connected online. Overwhelmingly, white (96 percent), black (94 percent), Latino (96 percent) and Asian-American (98 percent) youth report having access to a computer that connects to the Internet. A majority or near majority of white (51 percent), black (57 percent), Latino (49 percent), and Asian American (52 percent) youth report sending messages, sharing status updates and links, or chatting online daily.
- Youth are very involved in friendship-driven and interest-driven activities online.
- 78 percent send messages, share status updates, or chat online on a weekly basis.
- 58 percent share links or forward information through social networks at least once a week....
I was delighted to see this last question, dealing with the practices around what I call Spreadable Media, included in the survey, since events like Kony 2012 have established that acts of circulation can be an important part of how young people are participating in political debates.
Over-all, 64 percent engage in at least one interest-driven activity in a given week, and 32 percent engage in three or more interest driven activities a week. Participatory Politics are an important dimension of politics.
41 percent of young people have engaged in at least one act of participatory politics, while 44 percent participate in other acts of politics. Specifically, 43 percent of white, 41 percent of black, 38 percent of Latino and 36 percent of Asian-American youth participated in at least one act of participatory politics during the prior 12 months.
* Participatory politics are an addition to an individual's engagement rather than an alternative to other political activities:
Youth who engaged in at least one act of participatory politics were almost twice as likely to report voting in 2010 as those who did not.
A large proportion--37 percent of all young people--engages in both participatory and institutional politics.
Among young people who engage in participatory policies, 90 percent of them either vote or engage in institutional politics.
Participatory politics are equitably distributed across different racial and ethnic groups:
The difference in voting in 2008 between the group with the highest rate of turnout according to the U.S. Census Bureau--black youth (52%)-- and the group with the lowest rate of turnout-- Latino youth (27%)--is 25 percentage points.
These findings challenge many key stereotypes which shape dominant discourses around youth, new media, and political participation, suggesting that:
• participatory politics and culture are not simply activities involving white suburban middle class youth but they are widespread across all ethnic groups, and indeed, the group most likely to engage with the broadest range of such practices are African-Americans
• new media politics does not come at the expense of more traditional forms of political participation but rather is more likely to amplify patterns of voter-participation
• participatory culture and politics seems to be an important equalizer of opportunities for engagement in the political process.
One other conclusion seems important for readers who are invested in media literacy: According to the survey, 84 percent of youth indicate that, given their reliance on online sources for news and information, "would benefit from learning more about how to tell if news and information you find online is trustworthy." So, contrary to the stereotype that young people are indifferent to the credibility of the information they access online, many of them are seeking support from adult educators to help them acquire skills at more meaningfully parsing what should be trusted.
Educators and policy makers alike will benefit from looking more deeply at the rich data and insights found in this report. “ (http://henryjenkins.org/2012/07/participatory_politics_new_med.html)
- More findings are in Executive Summary of the YPP study available here at http://ypp.dmlcentral.net/sites/all/files/publications/YPP_Survey_Report_EXECSUM_0.pdf
- Connected learning TV, group discussion on the issue's report, http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=pERICiy5L_s#!