Digital youth participation refers to the use of the internet, social media, mobile technology and other information and communication technologies ( ICTs) to enable young people’s participation in democratic life. It is also sometimes called e-participation or smart participation.
How digital world and digital tools enable youth participation
The digital world and digital tools can enable youth participation by providing;
- An information channel through which young people can access information that supports their participation. For example, news sources, information about political debates and details of policy making.
- A communication channel through which young people can communicate with each other, and other people relevant to youth participation, such as decision makers.
- A platform to create, share and distribute content. For instance, to recruit new project participants, or to distribute a campaign
- A virtual space in which youth participation activities can take place and where virtual communities can form.
Nearly all forms of youth participation can be recreated in a digital format in some way. For example, youth council meetings or youth conferences can be hosted through video chat, or protests can be organised and held through hashtags and social media posts. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many youth participation projects transferred their activities exclusively to digital formats.
The digital world also gives the potential to create new methods of participation which could not be implemented in the physical world. Without physical barriers and limits, it becomes possible to do things like involving very large numbers of people or hosting interactions with people in multiple places across the world simultaneously.
More commonly though youth participation initiatives are now regularly combining face to face and digital interactions together in a blended approach. Many projects might create a group chat or social media page to enable participants to interact with each other outside of physical meetings, or to publicise the projects.
Key debates regarding digital participation
Digital participation is a new area and there are still many questions about how to do it effectively. Key debates include:
- How can we ensure digital tools and digital methods are accessible and inclusive to a wide range of young people?
- What competencies do youth workers need to undertake digital youth work?
- How do we connect online discussion and debate to policy making?
- How do we deal with issues that affect young people’s media consumption such as fake news and information disorder?
- How do we promote young people’s digital safety and data privacy?
- How can we ensure that the internet is governed in a way that supports democracy,
human rights, and the rule of law.
Many of these topics are part of much bigger debates that affect all parts of society and not just young people. They reflect the rapid changes that are happening in society because of digitalisation and the effect this is having on democracy.