“Social Media in the Hands of Young Citizen” SSHRC Funded Project 2010-2013

Dr. Boler’s new research project explores how young people engage the participatory, interactive aspects of Web 2.0 and conversely, how the exponential rise of social media shape youth political engagement.

This project has three primary objectives: (1) to document the social networking practices engaged by youth participants within four advocacy/activist organizations, (2) to explore and catalog the language youth employ to describe what is traditionally termed civic engagement, participatory democracy, and activism, and (3) to develop a new grounded theory and conceptual framework for understanding how young people’s civic engagement is (or is not) changing forms of democratic participation, and how sociable media may be redefining citizenship and social change.

The following research questions guide the study:

1. How do the young people within the four social movements that we will study describe their vision/experience of democracy, their political engagement, and barriers to sustained civic participation? How are young people’s practices potentially redefining traditional conceptions of political, civic and democratic participation?

2. How are social networking sites changing previous distinctions of on- and offline spheres? How do peer ties and social relationships influence motivations for political participation?

3. How are sociable media helping to form and organize new interest groups that may not be well represented or carry any voice in established parties?

4. Who is participating in which kinds of social movements, using which kinds of sociable media and/or information communications technologies? What are the barriers to more diverse socioeconomic civic engagement?

5. What motivates youth to engage sociable media connected to civic participation, and what sustains ongoing engagement? What are young people’s experiences of ˜being heard or having an impact?

6. When and how does adult or organization-level interference discourage youth from engaging in or remaining connected to social movements? What factors influence youth dropping out of participation?

In November 2011, Dr. Boler and her research team conducted 50 interviews of Occupy Toronto participants, and Dr. Boler had the opportunity to observe and conduct interviews as well at Occupy Wall Street, Occupy SF, and Occupy Oakland. The team then completed a literature review, and is commencing close analysis of the archives of Twitter feeds that represent the widespread public debates taking place as part of this new hybrid (engaging social media and digital communications, alongside face-to-face, “in the streets”) social movement.

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