Youth political engagement is often ignored and downplayed by adults, who often embrace a youth deficit model. The youth deficit model downplays the voices and unique experiences of youth in favor of adult-led and adult-centered experiences. Like other historical deficit models, the youth deficit model also provides permission to adults to speak for or about youth, even when not asked to speak for them. We refer to this powerful construction of youth interests by adults as mediation. Fortunately, online advocacy could offer an unmediated route to political engagement for youth as digital natives. Using a unique dataset, we investigate whether online protest spaces offer an unmediated experience for youth to learn about and engage in political protest. However, we find that youth engagement, and especially unmediated youth engagement, is rare among advocacy digital spaces, though it varies by movement, SMO-affiliation, and age groups. Based on our findings, we argue that, rather than youth being primarily responsible for any alleged disengagement, the lack of online spaces offering opportunities for youth to take ownership of their own engagement likely discourages youth from participating in traditional political advocacy and renders the level of youth engagement an admirable accomplishment of young people.
We would like to thank the Editor and anonymous reviewers for their comments, which substantially improved the paper. We also thank the National Science Foundation (Grant SES-0547990) and The MacArthur Foundation (through the Youth and Participatory Politics) for their support in collecting the data used in this paper.
Elliott, T. and Earl, J. (2021), "Talking with or Talking at Young Activists? Mediated Youth Engagement in Web-accessible Spaces", Solomon, J.A. (Ed.) Four Dead in Ohio (Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change, Vol. 45), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 57-84. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0163-786X20210000045004
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