Civic Participation of Youth in the Digital World

Civic Participation of Youth in the Digital World

September 1, 2021

This analysis aims to understand how young civic actors in the Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region use digital tools for political and social participation, the topics they are motivated about, and the opportunities and obstacles they encounter in their digital activism. The goal of the analysis is to serve as a conversation opener and to lead to more in-depth research and dialogue between stakeholders interested in advancing digital youth activism and civic engagement.

The analysis revealed that for youth activists, internet access gives them a strong sense of empowerment and belonging. Young civic actors see it as a tool for inclusivity and to engage with others directly and reach and mobilize more people, even beyond borders. According to 70% of them of survey responders, online activism gives higher visibility to important issues. However, around 63% of the respondents felt that taking part in digital activism does not reach of all young people. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that while digital technology may improve democratic participation, it does not do so equally across youth groups.

Internet restrictions and online harassment are among the biggest barriers for online youth participation. At the same time, privacy, cybersecurity, the presence of fake news and extremist content are also of concern for young activists. While the ECA region is one of the most equal in terms of parity of internet access, gender inequality is still present online, impacting the way young civic actor’s work is viewed. Nevertheless, the study shows a wise consensus that online and offline activism complement and reinforce each other.

COVID-19 has had a strong impact on civic activism, especially offline. Young civic actors saw the pandemic and its restrictions as having a positive impact on digital activism, increasing the importance of online efforts. However, what was worrying for many civic actors was how the pandemic has isolated younger generations, further exacerbating vulnerabilities and decreasing their engagement in social and civic life.

The report concludes with proposed key takeaways based on the survey findings and a series of discussions with youth actors and key experts. These reflections are organised based on three main pillars: participation, ensuring the protection of civic actors, and promoting a healthy civic space.