Civic Life Online:learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth

One great example of how digital media can engage youth shows what happens when schools, businesses, and civic groups turn to the internet.

Civic Life Online:learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth

By James Lane, Assistant Professor at King’s College London

As part of a project for the digital media and public life programme at King’s College London, I’ve recently been exploring how young people explore media content online to discover content they want to share, and how digital media might serve as a good ‘news feed’ or ‘guide for living.’ I call this approach civic life online: the way young people use online media to make sense of their lives and understand what information they need and want to share.

Civic life online, an idea born from the practice of studying young people who make their own books on Kindle and seek out political material on open source websites, is not new. The term resurfaced in 2007 when news broke of the drinking den Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code being posted on the Pirate Bay. As I have argued in my previous publications, the term suggests that digital media offer a space for political and participatory processes to take place on a global scale. Civic life online could be a method for journalism and politics to be examined, discussed and discussed in an environment of shared experiences online, where social norms are lessening the amount of external intervention needed to maintain the process.

The internet offers us a new way to engage with knowledge, creativity and social action. Social networks have made it so easy to share information and share knowledge, and to engage with these technologies, that I have been surprised by the impact that social media has had on how young people discover, share and express themselves. The global reach of Facebook, the ease of sharing and sharing quickly, creates a positive impulse to communicate and explain one’s existence, where it would have been inconceivable before these online channels.

Virtual public spaces could be a more democratic way to play or test out political ideas. The capability of social media platforms to create digital processes that mimic offline conversations, from blogs to message boards, has been an ongoing project of mine for the past ten years. At King’s College London, we have developed a software development course called Flourish, which gives students the ability to work collaboratively through online forums, collaboratively share and remix information, and develop their ideas for making their own digital publications on a site called the OpenStreetmap.

But perhaps the greatest potential for civic life online is that it is about democracy.

Young people will use digital media to play a part in democracy.

Studies show that people under 25 years old use the internet more than any other generation, and access more sources of news than any other age group. We expect this generational trust to continue as generations of young people demand that public services embrace digital technologies and open up services to the public. Making sure young people are part of the democratic conversation and democracy is taking place online is an exciting direction to take. Digital media also provides an interesting way for older people to stay connected with what’s happening in the digital world.

We have spoken to a range of young people as part of my research, and it seems to me that civic life online is a good way to get young people involved in a wider and more progressive democratic project, rather than just creating what I call digital news stories. Young people will use digital media to play a part in democracy. The roles and responsibilities of online communities will also be contested, and as people spend more time on the internet there will be debates about what forms of engagement and involvement are appropriate. All of this means that civic life online will be a more complex space for young people to express themselves and contribute to public life.

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