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It is well known that young people are more adapt to using the Internet and use it to actively engage in political communication, compared to older generations who are more likely to use traditional forms of media. The effects of new media can be seen everywhere in politics and clearly has made an enormous impact on the ways campaigns are run and how candidates brand themselves. Politics, it seems, is now defined by what goes on the Internet. Even more so, the political uses of new media seem to have a positive effect on the younger generation’s electoral participation.

Problem is, while young people are especially skilled at navigating the Internet to communicate and educate themselves, there seems to be a divide for the older generation who have to adjust to a new way of looking at politics. “The generational disconnect in online politics is evident in the features typically used (and not used) by candidates campaigning online, and in the relative absence of direct (or even indirect) appeals to young voters on most candidate Web sites (Xenos and Foot, 52).” Young people mostly solely rely on the Internet for political information. They can skillfully navigate any online political environment and understand the technical and visual details with an ease that eclipses the skill and understanding of older generations. But under this Internet proficiency there may be a greater problem – “the differences between campaigns’ and young voters’ perspectives on interactivity, control, and the value of coproduction may be significantly compromising the full potential of the Internet as a positive force for reinvigoration of youth political participation, thus exacerbating the problem (Xenos and Foot, 52).” Basically, there is a stark difference between what young voters expect from politicians online and what politicians actually know how to provide online.

While there is evidence to suggest that this group of young people typically are less engaged and interested in politics, there is equal evidence to suggest that this group is actively engaged in politics in an online environment. Because the youth has such a demand for politics online, they are also most reactive to candidates’ efforts to engage with them through the Internet and new media. Young people are seeking “interactive” ways to exchange information and to communicate. But this poses a problem for political consultants not as in tune with the power of new media, as they may have a different notion of what “interactive” means. The young generation wants tools in order to actively participate in politics online, but this requires that political candidates and other political actors keep up by offering features and content that coincides with what youth expects. There is “a significant gap between the online sensibilities of young people and the ways in which the vast majority of candidates for office in the United States conduct the online portions of their campaigns (Xenos and Foot, 58).” Generally, candidates are taking traditional campaigning and moving it online. This isn’t exactly a successful way of transitioning politics to the Internet. Candidates are still not doing the best job using the Web as a means of reaching out to young voters.

This isn’t to say that progress hasn’t been made, but I don’t believe it is enough. There is still such a generational gap in online politics. We are so quickly moving into a completely new media age that if politicians want to keep the youth vote strong, then they need to step up their game online.

-Karla Towle

Citation:

Xenos, Michael, and Kirsten Foot. “Not Your Father’s Internet: The Generation Gap in Online Politics.” Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth. Edited by W. Lance Bennett. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 51–70. doi: 10.1162/dmal.9780262524827.051

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