Frequently Asked Questions
Has civic and political life changed in the digital age?
- The digital age has enabled important changes in civic and political life. Such changes are particularly prominent among youth. The affordances of digital media are providing youth with a way to be heard, to join together, and to work for change. For example, the Black Lives Matter and the DREAMer movements—arguably two of the most prominent youth-led social movements in the U.S. of the past several decades—both utilize social media to circulate information and perspectives, mobilize others to get involved, apply pressure to elected officials, and change the conversation about fundamental societal issues.
- Opportunities to engage in what we refer to as participatory politics have expanded significantly. In 2012, 67% of youth engaged in civic and political activities using social networking sites in a manner consistent with participatory politics.
What are participatory politics?
- Participatory politics are actions through which individuals and groups seek to exert voice and influence on issues of public concern; a set of practices enabled by digital age technology and social connectivity that engage youth in the democratic process. To read more, visit this site: Participatory Politics: Next Generation Tactics to Remake Public Spheres.
Who is taking part in participatory politics?
- Many people, especially youth, are tapping the power of new digital tools and social networks to connect their cultural interests to politics, to express their voice and ideas, and to protest or in other ways exert influence on issues, such as poverty, food shortages, online censorship, corporate control, police misconduct, and immigrant rights. At times, online acts of participatory politics garner widespread attention, such as the protests that stopped the passing of the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act bills or Molly Katchpole’s mobilization against Bank of America’s increased fees, while at other times they take place locally and impact critical community issues.
- Enactment of participatory politics is growing. For example, between 2008 and 2012, the number of youth who posted political news on a social networking site grew from 13% to 32%.
What is are examples of participatory politics?
- The Black Youth Project — In the wake of the shooting death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, the girl who performed at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013, the project mobilized 47,000 people to sign a petition asking the president to address the gun violence crisis in Chicago. Obama responded by going to Chicago and calling on Congress to vote on proposals that make it harder for criminals to acquire guns. To find out more click here: Participatory Politics in Action - The Black Youth Project.
- The DREAMers — Through social media channels, undocumented youth and their supporters have been organizing and staging rallies for immigrant rights and protests against anti-immigrant laws nationwide. To find out more click here: Documenting DREAMs: New Media, Undocumented Youth and the Immigrant Rights Movement.
- The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) — Inspired by the fictional student activist group, Dumbledore’s Army, from the Harry Potter book series, HPA was formed in 2005 and inspired 100,000 U.S. fans to work on political and philanthropic issues such as literacy, equality and human rights. Among other campaigns, HPA runs an annual book drive in which members have donated more than $87,000 and registers voters at Wizard Rock concerts throughout the nation. To find out more click here: "Decreasing World Suck": Fan Communities, Mechanisms of Translation, and Participatory Politics
Why does it matter?
- Participatory politics provide a powerful way to build deeper engagement in the democratic process, especially with youth and underrepresented groups, at a time when democratic institutions and organizations are experiencing profound shifts. Evidence suggests that new media are providing new opportunities for political voice and discussion, thus increasing the role of participatory politics in public life.
- YPP’s nationally representative survey indicates that participatory politics are equitably enacted across race, class, and ethnicity. Youth of color are as likely or more likely than white youth to engage in most online forms of participatory politics.
Are there risks associated with participatory politics and the practice of politics in the digital age?
While participatory politics can empower people to address today’s challenges, we see unique and significant risks in the digital age, most notably the issues of surveillance, hate speech, misinformation, and corporate control of public affairs. These issues demand intervention, highlighted by the need for measures that:
- foster the ability to assess the credibility of online information;
- increase exposure to multiple perspectives;
- promote inclusive, respectful, and quality discourse; and
- cultivate the capacities for strong, healthy democratic engagement.
- YPP’s in depth study of 70 highly active civic youth found that 32% had silenced or quieted their online civic expression just two years later. Many said this was due to fears of negative consequences from sharing their perspectives online. To read more click here: A Hush Falls Over the Crowd: Diminished Online Civic Expression Among Civic Young Civic Actors.
Do youth need adult support?
- An active response is critical—the benefits of participatory politics won’t materialize on their own, nor will the risks that accompany the digital age go away on their own. The practice of politics has changed and, therefore, we must rethink how to support youth to participate effectively and meaningfully in this changing landscape. Educators can help ensure youth have equitable access to technology and the skills needed for participation in democratic life in the digital age.
- Quantitative and qualitative studies reveal that youth value support from peers, mentors, and educators. For example, when YPP 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.”
What is the impact of efforts to educate for participatory politics?
- YPP studies show that digitally oriented civic education promotes greater overall engagement in school, as well as later engagement in participatory politics. In an experimental test, class sessions that focused on the importance of assessing credibility significantly improved youth’s ability to judge the accuracy of online information. Targeted learning opportunities also increased interest in finding multiple perspectives on issues. For more information, you can read Digital Media Literacy Education and Online Civic and Political Participation and Digital Civic Literacy in Oakland High Schools.
What are the core practices of participatory politics that educators can prepare youth for?
- Investigation & Research - Youth analyze and evaluate information in order to learn about and investigate pressing civic and political issues.
- Dialogue & Feedback - Youth engage in dialogue, learn about multiple perspectives, and give feedback to elites on issues of public concern.
- Production & Circulation - Youth produce and circulate news and information about issues that matter to them and help shape the broader narrative.
- Mobilizing for Change - Youth rally their networks and mobilize others to work together to accomplish civic and political goals.
For more information, see Redesigning Civic Education for the Digital Age (forthcoming)
1. Smith, A. (2013). Civic engagement in the digital age. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Civic-Engagement.aspx.
2. Kahne, J., Hodgin, E., & Eidman-Aadahl, E. (2016) Redesigning civic education for the digital age: Participatory politics and the pursuit of democratic engagement. Theory and Research in Social Education, 44(1), 1-35. Retrieved from http://ypp.dmlcentral.net/publications/287.