Friday, September 11, 2009

Activism and the internet: youth presence is pronounced, growing

While democratic involvement is still rooted in the upper and middle classes, it seems that the millenial generation's online engagement may be breaking through socioeconomic lines. In a study released by the Pew Internet Project based on surveys conducted this August, respondents reported an interesting mix of figures related to activism and the internet. Historically, civic participation has a strong correlation with economic standing; those in the bottom one-sixth of all earners have voted at around half the rate of people in the top one-third bracket consistently since the 1940s. According to the report, the internet has yet to radically change this trend: those who earn over $100,000 were more than three times as likely to have participated in some online political activity than those who earned under $40,000.

Still, the report makes two important points. Firstly, political participation on social networking sites seems to transcend class lines:

Taken together, just under one in five internet users (19%) have posted material about political or social issues or a used a social networking site for some form of civic or political engagement. This works out to 14% of all adults -- whether or not they are internet users. A deeper analysis of this online participatory class suggests that it is not inevitable that those with high levels of income and education are the most active in civic and political affairs. In contrast to traditional acts of political participation—whether undertaken online or offline—forms of engagement that use blogs or online social network sites are not characterized by such a strong association with socio-economic stratification.
Furthermore, when the data of online activism was broken down by age group, the youngest cohort was overwhelmingly participatory:
Some 37% of internet users aged 18-29 use blogs or social networking sites as a venue for political or civic involvement, compared to 17% of online 30-49 year olds, 12% of 50-64 year olds and 10% of internet users over 65. It is difficult to measure socio-economic status for the youngest adults, those under 25 -- many of whom are still students. This group is, in fact, the least affluent and well educated age group in the survey.
Thus, the study implies that while socioeconomic status is still prevalent in determining political participation online or off, this may change as a new generation of internet-users grows older.

On another encouraging note, the report found that online activism doesn't just mean teenagers are engaging in simply clicking on Facebook links, In fact:
Those who use blogs or social networking sites politically are much more likely to be invested in other forms of civic and political activism. Compared to those who go online but do not post political or social content or to those who do not go online in the first place, members of this group are much more likely to take part in other civic activities such as joining a political or civic group, contacting a government official or expressing themselves in the media.