The Role of Social Media in Political Engagement Among Gen Z: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities
Social media has revolutionized the way we engage with each other, and politics is no exception. Among the younger generation, Gen Z, social media has become an essential tool for political engagement. With over 90% of Gen Z using social media, it has emerged as a powerful platform for political discussion and activism. While there are certainly obstacles to social media’s role in political engagement, there are also opportunities to turn those obstacles into positive outcomes. Understanding the role of social media in political engagement among Gen Z is important to see how can we use present setbacks as stepping stones.
It is not difficult to notice that the world of politics has been facing its issues with the involvement of Gen Z: dealing with the generation that is connected more than ever is not easy. Or maybe it is Gen Z that has been facing challenges related to political engagement? The question still remains unanswered as the age of the internet breeds modern-day adversity full of click-baits, informational over-stimulation and political correctness. Whatever the answer might be, it can be seen that one of the most significant challenges is the spread of misinformation and fake news. Social media platforms are often filled with inaccurate information, which can make it difficult for youngsters of today’s world to know what to believe. Not only the inaccuracy, but the overwhelming amount of information as well makes it challenging to make up your mind about today’s world. More often than not, this situation that youngsters are being put in, concludes in lack of research, which only enables social media algorithms to create echo chambers, where young people are only exposed to opinions and views that align with their own. This on its own often leads to polarization which consequentially roadblocks a productive, non-partial dialogue and understanding of different perspectives.
Continuing on this line of thought, another obstacle that adds to polarization and builds a wall between Gen Z and political participation is the potential for harassment and bullying. With the immense and frequent use of technology, Gen Z is generally exposed to a wide range of content online, both useful and harmful. The time has proven that social media can be a toxic environment, and political discussions can often become heated and contentious. Young people may be hesitant to engage in political discussions on social media out of fear of facing intimidation, slander or abuse online. This once again can interconnect with the challenge of filter bubbles, where algorithms limit the diversity of information users receive based on their previous search and click history, leading to the repetition of information already familiar to users and finalizes in informational comfort zone.
Now, there are as many obstacles as there are opportunities of positive political engagement of Gen Z. Despite these obstacles, social media also provides space for involvement that can be both immersive and beneficial. One of the most significant advantages is the instant access to information. Gen Z can stay updated with current events and political developments without having to rely on traditional media sources. With just a few taps on their smartphone, they can access news articles, videos, and opinion pieces on social media. This has led to a more informed and politically aware generation that is better equipped to participate in political discussions. Moreover, social media platforms can become a scene for Gen Z to express their opinions and engage in political discussions as well as share their views on political events, policies, and candidates with a wider audience. Social media like nothing else before can connect youngsters with like-minded individuals and create an online network of activists who can work together to bring change. Not only social media has also changed the way Gen Z interacts among each other, it also allows them to reach people in charge within seconds. Politicians can now connect with young voters on social media, creating a more personal and accessible relationship. They can respond to questions, share their views, and engage with young people on issues that matter to them. This has created a more engaged and connected political system, where politicians are more accountable to their voters. In other words, now more than any other cohort, young people of Gen Z have tools to get involved in politics and spark change.
The only thing left is sparking interest. To turn the obstacles to political engagement on social media into opportunities, there are several steps we can take. First and foremost, we must promote media literacy and critical thinking skills among Gen Z. This will help them to recognize and avoid fake news and misinformation. We also need to promote diverse information that challenges the status quo of mind among young people. However, this cannot be done by creating safe spaces for open dialogue and discussion. Youth workers, teachers, professors have this power to gather youngsters in both formal and non-formal settings and moderate their flow of thoughts in the way that is respectful and fruitful. Finally, people in charge should seize the opportunity to use social media as a platform for direct engagement with young voters. This could create a more connected and responsive political system, where young people can be heard and, hopefully, become genuinely interested.