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Allyson Kapin 5 min read

Does the Internet Inspire Youth Activism or Slacktivism?

Will the Millennials be a generation of social activists or slacktivists? That’s a big question on nonprofits’ minds, which are trying to engage with them early in hopes of developing long-term relationships with these future donors.  Unfortunately, Millennials have been portrayed as the “me generation”. They are viewed as techies and quite fickle when it comes to activism. They can be excited about one issue, and then quickly move on. However, a new study by the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub says that being online helps Millennials gain diverse perspectives and increases their civic engagement. 

“We found that being part of online participatory communities tied to youth interests, political or not, exposes youth to a greater degree of diverse viewpoints and issues and is related to higher levels of civic engagement,” said Joseph Kahne, one of the contributors to the study. “Both of these outcomes are good for democracy.” 

The study draws on survey data from a sample of 400+ California youth aged 19–22 who were surveyed after the 2008 presidential election. Over 200 of them were also surveyed during their junior or senior years of high school in 2006 and 2007.

Youth Activism Key Findings:

Being a part of online communities promotes engagement.

Many worry that youth who spend significant time on fan sites or in online communities tied to hobbies, sports or other interests will become socially isolated. The study found the opposite to be true. Youth engagement in interest-driven online communities was associated with increased volunteer and charity work and in increased work with others on community issues. The Internet can serve as a gateway to online and offline civic and political engagement, including volunteerism, community problem-solving, and protest activity.”

Most youth are in empty chambers not echo chambers.
Only 5% of youth reported being exposed to political views they agreed with. However, 34% of youth said that they didn’t encounter any perspectives at all. “Many youth are largely disengaged from discussions and debates surrounding civic and political issues,” Kahne said.

Not all youth are “digital natives.”
The study found that digital media literacy education dramatically increased students’ exposure to diverse perspectives and boosted the likelihood of youth online engagement with civic and political issues. This finding has serious implications for school and after-school programs as well as for parents. Many young people will benefit if they learn how to tap the full potential of digital media.”

Check out these stats from another study:

During the 2008 presidential campaign, 41% of those aged 18–29 watched candidate interviews, debates, speeches, and commercials online without the filter of mainstream media. 37% of those aged 18–24 obtained campaign information from social networking sites (more than from newspapers). Only 4% aged 30–39 did, according to Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center.

Questions Remain!

While the study says that being online helps Millennials gain diverse perspectives and increases civic engagement, researchers also found that the culture and norms that surround participation on social networks and with video game communities neither facilitate nor constrain discussion of societal issues. The researchers plan to further investigate what may be different about these nonpolitical interest-driven communities.


Allyson Kapin

Allyson has been named one of "Top Tech Titans" by the Washingtonian, one of the Most Influential Women In Tech by Fast Company, and one of the top 30 women entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter by Forbes for her leadership role in technology and social media. As Founding Partner of Rad Campaign, she leads the firm's client and online strategic services. For over a decade Allyson has helped non-profit organizations and political campaigns create dynamic and award-winning websites and online marketing and recruitment campaigns. She works side-by-side with her clients to meet their web needs and maximize their online effectiveness to create real world impact.