Cathy J. Cohen on youth political action and new media

June 26, 2012

Vikram Murthi

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As we embrace the Digital Age with open arms, parents face new concerns about what their kids are up to on the Internet. Well, a new national study on youth political action and new media might assuage some of their fears.

Funded by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics, the study examines how a substantial number of American youth, aged 15-25, are now engaging in “participatory politics,” such as writing a blog about a political issue or sharing political videos with friends and colleagues via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Because these participatory acts are interactive and peer-based, they differ from traditional political action and allow the youth to have greater control, voice, and potential influence over issues that resonate with them.

Some key findings from the study include:

  • Young people are engaging with these participatory political acts across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines.
  • Young people who use social media to purse non-political interests (such as entertainment and sports) are five times more likely to engage in participatory politics as those who infrequently engage in these interest-driven online activities.
  • Taking into account participatory politics, institutional politics, and voting, black youth are the most engaged demographic, with only 25% of black youth reporting no engagement with political activity in any form.

But arguably the most interesting finding from the study says that while the youth get their news from participatory channels, 84% of respondents said they would benefit from learning more about how to tell if the information they receive is credible, suggesting that American youth are deeply concerned with the quality of their news.

On Tuesday’s Afternoon Shift, we talk with Cathy J. Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Chicago and founder of the Black Youth Project, about the insights from this study and its national implications on the upcoming 2012 presidential election and the American political landscape.