New Media, New Citizens: the Terms and Conditions of Online Youth Civic Engagement
This source preferred by Roman Gerodimos
Authors: Gerodimos, R.
Editors: Richards, B. and Lilleker, D.G.
The increasingly salient role of new media in young people's lives has led to a debate about the potential of the internet as a means of political communication and youth participation. While a growing body of scholarship has engaged 'Nith the issue, there is lack of empirical research linking young people's civic motivations to their internet uses, and in particular to their evaluations, as users, of UK civic websites. This thesis brings together the study of youth civic engagement and the practice of user experience in order to explore the civic factors and website elements that motivate young people to participate via the internet. Employing a large survey and a qualitative study of a purposively sampled community of young citizens and internet users, the research explores youth civic needs and how these translate into specific uses of the web. Furthermore, a comprehensive content analysis of twenty civic websites is juxtaposed with a user experience study, in order to facilitate a dialogue between the online text and the users. The core argument of this study is that young people are willing to engage with public affairs via civic websites as long as a series of "terms and conditions" are met that would make this engagement meaningful to them. These include the existence of visible benefits or outcomes from the participation process and the relevance of the issue to the individual's lifeworld. It is argued that the preconditions set by these young people constitute a coherent paradigm of an essentially consumerist approach to civic engagement; a mode of online political communication that is based around convenience, personalisation and emotional engagement. However, a feeling of civic loneliness was also manifest in the participants' narratives and there were strong indications that any sense of alienation should not be attributed to apathy, but to a fundamental scepticism about the ability of the individual to make a difference at the social level. The evidence suggests that, while technology has a role in providing users with accessible and effective online tools, the root cause of the problem may be in the social structures of the civic culture, and particUlarly in the mechanisms of political socialisation that facilitate civic motivation. Hence, the study reaffirms the importance of the affective, symbolic and political dimensions of participation and argues that these need to be integrated along with traditional (technological and psychological) elements of user experience in order to achieve civic usability.