Young people discuss e-democracy
On 9 May 2014, Facebook hosted a roundtable discussion about democracy in the digital era for young people. The discussion was chaired by the Digital Democracy Commissioner Femi Oyeniran and focused on the following three questions:
- What comes to mind when you think of politics and politicians?
- What could MPs do to involve young people in talking about politics and making decisions that affect you?
- What is the best way for you to access information about politics and government?
Summary of discussion:
Facebook’s head of policy for EMEA, Simon Milner, opened the event by welcoming all to Facebook and reiterated why they were supporting the work of the Digital Democracy Commission.
At the beginning of the event Femi Oyeniran, who was the Chair, asked the group to write down one word they associated with digital democracy. The most popular word was ‘social media’.
Over the course of 90 minutes, the discussion focused on 3 questions which are discussed in detail below.
1. What comes to mind when you think of politics and politicians?
Many of the participants associated politics and politicians with corruption. The majority of the group thought of politics as a roomful of people arguing – ‘punch and judy politics’ was a phrase used by the group.
Participants also said that they felt politicians were not representative of the society they live in, everyone they see on the television is “white and middle class”.
Many of the group also emphasised that young people don’t really understand politics. Very little education on politics takes place in schools, and there appears to be a language barrier between young people and political representatives. The participants emphasised that they don’t always understand MPs.
A few of the participants also talked about the ‘cycle of not voting’ as members of their family do not vote they thought that in the future they wouldn’t either.
There was a stigma surrounding the idea of politics because of past scandals. It was thought the whole concept of politics and politicians could be rebranded and made less toxic.
The discussion ended with the group saying that they would engage with politics if they knew things would change and that their issues were addressed.
2. What could MPs do to involve young people in talking about politics and making decisions that affect you?
The main point raised during the discussion was that the young people around the table don’t really understand the political system and as a consequence did not care or engage with what is going on.
One solution suggested to counter this was to have a set of youth ambassadors in all areas. Participants felt that people who were similar in age to them would understand their issues and be able to communicate with them in a way that would encourage them to engage with politics.
“If I was listened to, I would vote”.
Many of the group felt that their political representatives do not listen to them or have an understanding of the everyday lives of young people. The notion of a regular life swap so that councillors and MPs could experience a young person’s everyday life was suggested.
One participant said that they would just appreciate being asked questions and be given an honest answer.
3. What is the best way for you to access information about politics and government?
The group didn’t think that politicians were very good at using social media. Generally thought they were boring and that many twitter accounts were stage managed.
The majority of the group thought more ‘celebrities’ should be involved in politics, if there were more endorsements from this group then it may encourage younger people to take an interest.
The entire group endorsed the idea of teaching politics at school. They felt that their citizenship lessons could focus on the basics of politics – “to care about politics you need to know about it”. They felt there should be a centralised effort to teach people about the political system.
The group also bought up the ‘digitally excluded’ and questioned how we could engage with them successfully.
The group also said that politicians could use radio more effectively. No one in the group listened to LBC or Radio 4 – they listened to stations such as KISS FM and Radio 1 and had never heard an MP on these shows.
Some other points bought up included the need to:
- Learn how to use technology properly
- Use hashtags
- Make your social media personal
- Re-tweet more people
- Not make patronising political adverts
- Use Instagram
- Have an initiative like the no make-up selfie
- Try to ‘be on trend’ and not dictate the conversation
Image: Parliamentary copyright