Flow as a Framework to Engage Youth in Participatory Politics on Social Media Platforms

Flow as a Framework to Engage Youth in Participatory Politics on Social Media Platforms

Sohail Dahdal (Mass Communication Department, American University of Sharjah, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/IJEP.2017100103


Recent studies indicate that youth's increased exposure to political content on social media platforms does not correlate positively with an increased interest in politics. This seemingly contradictory high exposure versus low interest indicates a certain level of apathy towards political participation. This article proposes that in order for youth to experience a stronger engagement in participatory politics, they need to feel challenged and skilled enough to be able to make an impact. This article draws on Csikszentmihalyi's flow theory premise that a state of total absorption, or “flow,” can be attained in a game-like environment in which the actors are highly skilled and the challenges match their skills. The author proposes a framework that relies on combining memes' viral properties—their ability to transmit political content—and the strength of engagement in a game-like environment to create politically provocative memes able to improve youth participation in politics.
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Young people throughout the world are increasingly relying on social media as their main source of news, entertainment, and information. This has been especially evident in the last decade, with the phenomenal success of large social media platforms, starting with Myspace and followed by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat (Boyd, 2007; Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). While there is empirical evidence that this increase in media consumption also increases young people’s exposure to more political content (Delli Carpini, 2000; Head, 2007; Xenos, Vromen, & Loader, 2014), this increase in exposure has not significantly increased their interest in political participation. Instead, we have witnessed a steady decline in interest in political activism among youth (Harris, Wyn, & Younes, 2010; Smith, 1999; Snell, 2010). Therefore, how do we reconcile a higher exposure to political content with a low interest in politics? One problem is in the nature of what is present on social media in terms of political videos. Most of them lack a meaningful call to action, or a challenge requiring youth to use their skills in order to participate. This lack of a meaningful challenge results in apathy towards participatory politics among youth (Hao, Wen, & George, 2014; Hooghe & Boonen, 2015; Pilkington & Pollock, 2015). Another key problem is that the creators of digital political videos are often advocacy groups, non-profit organizations or celebrity politicians. Youth are rarely involved in this process. This top down approach contributes to the lack of engagement of youth in political messages. In relation to youth’s engagement on social media platforms, we consider the action of viewing a political message as the lowest level of acceptable engagement in which the youth is ‘informed’, while the highest level of engagement is when the youth takes ‘ownership’ of the political message and proceeds to participate in the creating (or re-versioning) of this message. Our definition of engagement is based on research published by the International Association for Public Participation, which proposes five levels of participation: inform, consult, involve, collaborate, and empower as the highest level (Participation Spectrum, 2014). The objective of this paper is to look at what would produce the highest level of engagement with the aim of involving the youth in the process of creation and not just viewing. This would empower those youth and ensure meaningful engagement beyond the token ‘share’ and ‘like’ - often referred to as ‘slacktivism’ (Christensen, 2011; Lee & Hsieh, 2013; McCafferty, 2011; van Gestel & Strick, 2015; Kristofferson, White, & Peloza, 2014). The mechanism by which these youths feel empowered and the nature of the content that they would create and consume, is key for this process. In this paper, we will not present specific solutions, but rather we will point to a framework and a mechanism that can be used by activists and researchers to create real life political content made for (and by) the youth. This gives it a better chance of producing participatory political engagement (Head, 2007; Sheedy, MacKinnon, Pitre, & Watling, 2008).

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