Young People’s Nonpolitical Online Activity Supports Democratic Life

Emma González, a high school student from Parkland, now has more Twitter followers than the NRA. Indeed, numerous students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have turned the social media skills and practices they use every day into tools that enable political impact. While their traumatic experience is tragically extreme, their example sheds light on a more general process: When digital skills and social networks are joined with a motivation to effect change, they become potent political resources.

Our study of youth social media practices and politics indicates that this dynamic is more common and more consequential than many suspect. In 2015, the Pew Research Center found that 92 percent of teens ages 13-17 go online every day; fully 24 percent, or almost a quarter, say they’re online almost constantly. Most of this online activity is not political, of course. But, even when not political, online engagement appears to be politically consequential.

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