WHAT IS THE REAL POTENTIAL FOR ONLINE YOUTH ACTIVISM in the US? Professor Earl approaches the question from two directions. How interested are youth in engaging in online political activity (what is the “demand” for this activity)? And what kinds of opportunities are youth afforded to engage online (what is the “supply” of opportunities to engage in such activity)? In order to understand demand, she uses survey data from a random sample of teenagers and young adults to understand what kinds of activities are particularly attractive to different youth sub-groups (e.g., compares participation across race and ethnicity). Then, she uses data on random samples of websites on 20 different social movement issue areas to understand how and how often youth are specifically targeted for non-institutional engagement by social movements.
Excerpt: "Instead of assuming that social movements and other forms of extra-institutional engagement have received youth interest with open arms, our examination of the supply side of participation has shown that youth are engaging despite a lack of significant targeting and tailoring. It is a reasonable hypothesis, which future research should investigate, to suspect that if movements are already enjoying substantial youth engagement without those efforts, movements might be able to generate far more youth support and engagement if they do try to explicitly reach out to youth. It would seem that social movements that could benefit from greater youth engagement need to start with the simplest of steps: trying to actually engage youth and cast youth not just as subjects affected by activism but as an actual audience the movement needs to target and as active agents who can contribute to movements through their participation."
JENNIFER EARL is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona. She taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) before joining Arizona. She is Director Emerita of the Center for Information Technology and Society and Director Emerita of the Technology and Society PhD Emphasis, both at UCSB. Her research focuses on social movements and the sociology of law, with research emphases on the Internet and social movements, social movement repression, and legal change. She has published widely, including Digitally Enabled Social Change (2011), with Katrina Kimport, and articles in major sociological journals such as the American Sociological Review and the Annual Review of Sociology.