Digital civic engagement by young people

Rapid analysis | An overview of the latest research with a critical focus on the enablers, constraints and nature of youth civic engagement in the digital space

Teen sits at her desk by a wall filled with her drawings at her home.
UNICEF/UN0157639/d’Aki

Highlights

Around the world, young people have redefined civil engagement to be much more inclusive of digitally mediated forms of interaction.

Digital civic engagement by youth can include digital instances of more conventional hallmarks of civic engagement, such as reading and circulating news, writing emails to an elected representative or community organization (or interacting with them on social media), or belonging to a campus or community group online. Exposure to civic issues and civic education at an early age helps create future engaged civic actors, while sociopolitical empowerment is associated with young people’s self-esteem and well-being.

Yet, with digital media creation and editing tools that are easy to access and use, many youth also engage with digital spaces to develop their civic identities and express their political stance in creative ways, including through videos, memes and artwork to claim agency that may not be afforded to them in traditional civic spaces. This dynamic is reimagining the concept of ‘the political’ writ large.

As academics and practitioners theorize new ways to understand and evaluate these kinds of digital civic engagement, this paper aims to compile evidence and explain available analytical frameworks to help UNICEF and other organisations working with young people understand this rapidly emerging area of adolescent engagement.

This analysis presents an overview of relevant research across the topic of digital civic engagement by young people by asking about the nature and dimensions of engagement, enablers and constraints of digital civic engagement, as well examining some key considerations when supporting young people’s engagement.

We propose that policymakers, organizations working with children and youth, or anyone else interested in creating more opportunities to engage youth in this way adhere to the following precepts:

  • Take into account blended contexts
  • Understand the primacy of affinity networks
  • Appreciate youth creation of varied content
  • Stay appraised of local specificity
  • Promote and support civic education and development of digital literacies and skills
  • Consider how digital civic engagement by youth can drive youth participation in more traditional forms of civic engagement
  • Consider the risks of digital civic engagement by youth
Cover image for UNICEF Global Insight rapid analysis of digital civic engagement paper
Author
Alexander Cho, Ph.D., University of California; Jasmina Byrne and Zoë Pelter, UNICEF
Publication date
Languages
English

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