Youth Turning to Social Media to Develop Political Voice

By Zoe Vongtau | Urban Agenda

In 2012, 45 percent of people ages 18-29 voted in the U.S. presidential election.

The statistic covers only those of legal voting age. What about those who can’t vote but are still politically active?

An upcoming senior at Baldwin High School, Emma Dowker, 17, is proof that the statistic doesn’t effectively represent all youth. Since the beginning of her junior year, she has become more involved and aware of hot-button issues through social media.

On Twitter, one of the platforms Dowker is most active on, she subscribes to politics-related accounts and people, including U.S. senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

“I always used (Twitter) to be social, then when I got political, I realized there were better ways to utilize it,” Dowker said.

She gets updates from political commentators on her favorite media sites, such as the Young Turks and Secular Talks, which analyze nationwide issues and aims to educate the public.

Dowker also drew inspiration from her brother, an American History major. “A lot of my political interest was rooted in conversations with him,” she said.

Since becoming interested in politics, Dowker has begun to consider a career in the field and taken her interest outside of the web. She has been involved locally with a grassroots organization that aims to keep Democrats in elected office through organizing and door-to-door volunteering.

“It’s good to experience things like this in high school,” Dowker said.

Despite being two months shy of voter eligibility for the 2016 Presidential election, Dowker still recognizes the importance of being aware of the events.

“The more I involve myself on what’s happening and educate myself [and] others, the more informed voters will be,” she said.

Paul Furiga, president and CEO of WordWrite Communications, affirmed Dowker’s involvement. “Social media gives someone who is not old enough to vote, a place to participate.”

Furiga recognizes how social media has influenced the way youth receive information about politics, specifically the campaign of Sanders.

In his campaign, Sen. Sanders used media such as Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and email to appeal to the younger generation.

“Bernie Sanders just seemed to capture what more young people wanted,” Furiga said.

Equally interested in being informed is upcoming sophomore Grace DeLallo, who says her presence on social media has helped boost her activism and interest in politics.

Before 8th grade, DeLallo, 15, said she had used her accounts on social media like many teenagers today — only to keep up with friends, celebrities and gossip.

After becoming tired of listening to peers spew misinformation, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

“I would hear people say things that made me upset,” she said. “I started to fight for my views. As a woman, I believe in equality. When people, not just women, are treated unequally or without decency or respect, it creates a fire in me and I cannot stand for it.”

For DeLallo, social media has been a resource. “It has brought topics and facts to my attention that otherwise I would have been too lazy or just not aware to research on my own without assistance,” she said.

Next year, DeLallo hopes to join The Women and Girls Foundation to continue her activism and gain political knowledge.

In response to teenagers like DeLallo who have a strong presence on social media, governmental organizations and companies have increased their own. One is Amie Downs, director of communications for Allegheny County.

Downs uses popular media like Twitter and Facebook to spread press releases, inform people on county issues and accidents, and share good news.

“It’s a quick and easy way to get info out as fast as possible,” Downs said.

Social platforms have been around for decades, and with these growing opportunities and applications, it doesn’t look like it’s going away soon.

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