The study, conducted by the Youth and Participatory Politics research network, found that contrary to commonly held beliefs those who used new media and social networking were more likely to be politically engaged.
Not only were these youth more interested in politics, but their involvement went beyond online petitions and into real-world political activism. This flies in the face of the common perception that internet activism is typically shallow and carries little impact in the real world.
The study also found that youth who participate in online communities are less likely to be socially isolated. Though counter-intuitive, the researchers claim that “spending time in online communities appears to promote engagement with society”.
Finally, increased internet use leads to youth being more exposed to alternative and opposing views, a finding that runs counter to the popular “echo chamber” theory which suggests citizens online are likely to become insulated in groups of like-minded individuals.
However, just as civic engagement was shown to increase with use of new media, there was also a substantial cohort of youth who are not politically active. 34% of respondents claimed that they were not exposed to political discussions online.
These findings suggest that, while not all youth will take advantage of the internet to participate in politics, those that do will benefit from access to a diversity of viewpoints and find new opportunities for civic engagement.
This study highlights the importance of broad and equal access to the internet, a point stressed in the APC Internet Rights Charter .