Political discussion is not exclusive to adults, and young people are proving that online. From Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and more, young people have access to many outlets where they can discuss politics. Of course, conflict can arise when opposite views clash, but the concept of young people participating in politics is crucial.
Kjerstin Thorson, associate professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at Michigan State University, said some platforms make it easier to talk about politics.
“For example, Facebook and Twitter, you share links (and) most of what you share with other people can be seen,” Thorson said. “So, these are platforms where people tend to encounter politics.”
Thorson said content depends on the platform. For example, Snapchat is more private because it is more “text light,” she said.
“You think about the way people use Snapchat,” Thorson said. “Those aren’t necessarily places where people talk about politics quite as much because there isn’t a sort of news content or political content flowing through those platforms quite as much. It’s a little bit harder to share.”
Because Facebook is often associated with family members, she said it can discourage people from expressing their opinions.
“People are afraid of getting called out,” she said. “Uncle Jimmy is going to be like, ‘oh, you’re wrong.’ Or going to say something really offensive on their Facebook because it’s such a visible space. All of your friends are there, your boss is there, your mom is there.”
Eliza Webb, state youth director of NextGen Michigan, said Instagram has become a way for young people to access information.
Webb said social media is a vital tool for young people to use for sharing and learning information about politics and current events around the world. She said young people create their own media by sharing their experiences in their communities such as school shootings and police brutality.
“Young people have kind of seen more what it means to exist in this economic climate and to try to get jobs and to be ladened with student debt and to see what’s happening with immigration in our country,” Webb said.
Posting news through Facebook posts or a brief tweet can make news more digestible compared to a long article.
“They can record that interaction and posted online and get thousands of hits and that’s just an instantaneous spreading of that information of what happened,” Webb said.
Political science major Chrissy Clark finds Facebook to have a more civil climate compared to Twitter.
She posts weekly live stream videos discussing current events. Her videos generate around a thousand views on each video.
On Facebook, she is able to post political content without getting trolled. She said controversy arises more on Twitter.
“There’s just people on Twitter that just stir things up and they say some petty things without really thinking about the consequences and sometimes do really stupid things… Everyone’s just rude on Twitter,” Clark said.
When it comes to receiving and sharing news on social media, Clark said people are attracted to flashy headlines. She said people should read tougher, in-depth articles from news organizations that are not on their political side. A goal of hers is to practice what she preaches and read articles written from the left side.
“I think that it’s important that you see both sides of things…. I think that people have the opportunity to, they just don’t,” she said. “They just see the easy way out of being able to retweet something and then they’re also total idiots because they’ll look at something and they’ll retweet it.”
International relations sophomore Rose Chehrazi, who supports Democrats, has gained political knowledge through social media. She finds herself most engaged on Twitter where she’s exposed to different opinions. She said her Facebook consists of similar views to her own because it’s more secluded to who she is friends with on the platform, while Twitter is more of a public space where posts can spread beyond someone’s followers — unless the setting is on private.
Chehrazi said she became aware and involved in politics because of social media. Because she always had an interest in social studies growing up, she said she began to engage in social media through political debates.
An issue she’s became more aware of through social media is cultural appropriation. Being Middle Eastern, she relates to misrepresentation in the media. By scrolling through Twitter, she understood the problematic issue to a deeper extent. An example she mentioned was Marc Jacobs featuring white models wearing dreads in his spring collection in 2017.
“If you want to capitalize on black beauty, because dreads are traditionally a black hairstyle, you should just hired black models,” Chehrazi said. “In that case, if you really want to appreciate that culture, you just want to take something you might find pretty about a culture and erase and put it on someone who’s white instead to make it pretty.”
Another example is not having people with Middle Eastern backgrounds play characters in the “Aladdin” remake.
“There’s a line of racism in that,” Chehrazi said. “Especially Jasmine, who I’ve looked up to since I was a little girl. She was the only one that was like me and looked Middle Eastern.”
Eli Pales, president of the College Democrats and vice president of governmental affairs at the Associated Students of MSU said his social media platforms are tailored to his political views. His main sources of political news are found on Twitter and Facebook.
“Social media is very politically driven and Twitter, especially, is incredibly politically driven,” Pales said. “I have a wide variety of use on there. I follow a lot of people personally that are very left on the political spectrum. So, I get a perspective that (is) not necessarily the stories that you would get in the news if you were to watch TV.”
He finds social media to be a way to expose people who do not read newspapers to news. However, he said print media is getting hurt by online news.
College Republicans President Aleksander Oslapas said Facebook is set to have deeper conversations and Twitter is more brief. He said he uses Facebook as his primary platform for news. During his freshman year, he said, his interest in politics rooted from getting news on social media.
“I would say that I think Facebook is more of an argument,” Oslapas said. “We have more of the comment section. Whereas Twitter seems (to have) more bold statements and maybe explaining arguments a little bit in the comments, but Facebook seems almost more like a conversation.”
Social media has provided resources for younger people to be informed. Oslapas said the younger generation engaging with the older generation online has similar assumptions in real life.
“The assumption that they’re young and naive and don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said.
Engaging in conflict
Although Clark receives negative responses at times, she does not feed into it — unless a subject goes against being humanitarian.
“I’ve never picked a fight with somebody on social media over something that I think is controversial, but it’s very rare and it has to be a subject that really grinds my gears,” Clark said.
Some examples Clark mentioned was when comedian Kathy Griffin held an image of President Donald Trump’s cut off head in a photo, and people’s negative reactions to the passing of George H.W. Bush online.
“I would never ever in a million years be wishing the death of somebody that publicly served this country and (who) was a World War II veteran and hero,” Clark said. “So, it just boggles my mind.”
Although social media is a way to discuss issues, Clark advises people to be careful with what they post. She said people’s views can change and an inappropriate post from the past can backfire in the future. Social media makes it easy to dig up old tweets from someone’s past and she advises people to be careful of what they post — and to be cognizant that people’s views change.
Chehrazi said she used to engage more often in conflict on Twitter and still will if she sees ignorance such as non-Iranian people discussing Iranian politics. She said she tries to educate people rather than arguing.
This is horrifying…this poor man. MBS should be disgraced in the international community and states should move to cut ties with Saudi Arabia. This behavior is intolerable and he should face the consequences. https://t.co/2g5xDsUBCN
— rose رز (@rosechehrazi) December 10, 2018
“I try to make a point to them and tell them, ‘Well, actually this is the case.’” Chehrazi said.
Transferring online activism offline
From school shootings being prominent in the news and March for Our Lives becoming an active movement on social media, young people are finding reasons to get involved online.
The Pew Research Center reported how activities on social media — including posting opinions, linking political content and persuading people to be active—are usually younger users. Users who are 50 years old or older are less likely to discuss their political views.
Although 38 percent of people use social media to share political content, the study found that just 20 percent of users follow political figures — conservative Republicans are most likely to do so compared to liberal Democrats.
Today, the internet amplifies the activist possibilities offline, Thorson said. People become traditionally engaged offline as a result of being online.
“I think a lot of people learn about those kinds of opportunities online, but then they take them up offline,” she said. “I think about the March for Our Lives protests. A lot of the organizing around those protests happens offline or online, but then the marches themselves happened in geographic spaces.”
Instead of voting out of a sense of civic duty, Thorson said, young people get inspired by a candidate, such as former President Barack Obama in 2008. She said an assumption about young people is their absence in local elections.
However, the political climate among young people will change as the world is in a “protest moment right now,” she said.
“If you look not just in the U.S., but globally, there are youth-led activist movements in almost every country you can think of,” she said.
Thorson said social media makes it easier for organizing protests. Because of these movements forming online, she said voter registration numbers are higher than previous midterm elections. Black Lives Matter and the Me Too movement are other examples of the organizing power of social media, she said.
Chehrazi has practiced activism through attending events organized on social media — including the Women’s Convention and the Women’s March in Detroit. She said movements founded on social media such as March for Our Lives is proof that young people like the Parkland students gained their momentum online.
“Through their Twitter accounts, they got to engage directly with other Americans and really talk about why gun laws need to change in order to be a safer America,” Chehrazi said.
Chehrazi said because the Parkland students have been directly affected by gun violence, they did their research in order to advocate for the issue — by speaking with Florida legislators, politicians like Senator Marco Rubio and pressuring groups like the NRA. She said they gained the knowledge they needed about gun laws in Florida to benefit them for debate. She said this is also useful for people who doubt the students for not knowing enough about the issue.
As for Chehrazi’s political content online, she said she mainly retweets news and will sometimes write her thoughts with it.
“I remember when Trump was talking about ending birthright citizenship, I immediately commented on that because no matter how partisan politics gets these days, there are certain ideas that should remain American,” Chehrazi said. “That should not change regardless of what side you’re on…It’s rooted in our court as Americans.”
Chehrazi usually discusses national politics, along with Michigan and her home state Virginia. She also keeps up with international politics because she said although some people may think international issues might not affect them, the world is becoming more connected.
Webb said the older generation assumes that young people are not as informed on situations such as free public education.
“There’s a lack of information, a lack of mastery of information and a lack of expertise among them,” Webb said.
“I just think that it’s really important to build an authentic social media community driven by young voters ourselves to let us engage and communicate with each other,” Webb said. “I think it’s going to be really exciting to see where social media leads us in the next couple of cycles and how it affects young people’s interest and drive in politics.”
Clark said the said the difference between the younger and the older conservative generation is how they grew up with stricter family values. The old conservatives are disappointed on what policies younger people are focusing on and pushing onto them.
“I think they’re just upset that there’s so many liberal college campuses and that there’s not enough diversity of thought on college campuses,” Clark said.
Since college campuses are less likely to be a place for conservatives to share their views, Clark said social media is a way for conservatives to actively keep the older generation’s views alive.
The idea of social media being a technology advancement is something older people are afraid of, Chehrazi said. The older generation holds a stigma against young people engaging in politics because of their inexperience in the “real world,” she said.
“There’s the factor that young people aren’t capable of comprehending a political thought and ideology and not to the extent as they (older people) do,” Chehrazi said.
She said it’s a fact that the internet can contain fake news, but the older generation is also capable of spreading unreliable news.
“But, I do give some older people the benefit of the doubt,” Chehrazi said. “I’m sure there are plenty out there that do think social media is wonderful and a great change in communicating with Americans.”
East Lansing councilman and Michigan State University alumnus Aaron Stephens said the younger generation is more connected to the world around them because of the access gained through social media. He said the older generation realizes how vastly different it is to be informed online.
“I think that the older generation likes to say we don’t share the same values,” Stephens said. “I mean, there’s a little bit of condescension sometimes. But, I would say that social media is this thing that kind of gives everybody an even playing field. Everybody gets the same amount of time to talk. Everybody gets the same amount of exposure.”
Stephens said a common argument is that people post about an issue online but do not act upon it offline. However, he said the fact that people are more informative about that issue is a good thing itself.
“It’s about finding that balance and how we make sure that people do go out and take action based upon the information they’re provided via social media, but make sure the information is correct.”