STUDYING YOUTH ONLINE POLITICAL EXPRESSION: EMPIRICAL FINDINGS AND METHODOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS
Keywords:youth, activism, online political expression, civic identity
We are living through a highly politicized time, with deep divisions foregrounding the significance and importance of political expression and dialogue. Youth have been at the forefront of these important conversations, in both academic research and in the popular press. On the one hand, we are seeing a resurgence of activism and engagement among youth (Bond, Chenoweth & Pressman 2018; Deal 2019), who are using online platforms to express themselves politically in rich and creative ways (Graef 2016; Jenkins et al., 2016). On the other hand, deep concerns have emerged about “some of the darker sides of networked media engagement” (boyd, 2017, n.p.), including the spread of misinformation, increased polarization and politically motivated bullying among youth (Rogers, 2017). If we see youth as active agents in their own political socialization (Youniss, McLellan & Yates, 1997), the ways they actively express and negotiate their civic identities online (Jenkins et al., 2016) offer rich possibilities for understanding how we can best support them as civic actors. The research presented in this panel aims to move beyond a simplified depiction of youth as either idealized political role models (e.g. Greta Thunberg or the Parkland Youth) or, conversely, as apathetic and politically disengaged. In light of the conference theme exploring what it means to have a Life mediated by the internet, we place emergent and senior scholars studying youth and online political expression in dialogue with one another to discuss both findings and particular considerations brought up by internet research (franzke et al., 2020), and especially internet research involving youth (Livingstone & Third, 2017). By encouraging researchers and audience members to reflect on the epistemological, ethical, and practical aspects of their own research, we aim to identify new questions for further study as we seek to understand the evolution of youth and online political expression. The first presentation reviews findings from a cross-platform study utilizing a mixed methods approach to explore youth online political expression and cross-cutting political talk on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. These presenters discuss their findings in relation to the challenges and opportunities they encountered when identifying and analyzing youth-generated cross-platform data. The second presentation highlights findings from a social discourse analysis of Twitter and Reddit threads on youth-centric issues of immigration (DACA) and environmental issues (plastic pollution) to identify how the intersection of issue, platform and aims of discourse shape the characteristics of online civic discourse. This presenter discusses the challenges she encountered when creating both a codebook and coding scheme for data analysis. The third presentation considers the role of gender and intersectional identity in online humorous political expression through a case study of a U.S. Black Muslim teen’s TikTok posts. This presenter discusses the challenges of placing critical technocultural discourse analysis into dialogue with digital media literacy and youth participatory action research endeavors. The fourth presentation highlights findings emerging from a series of ethnographic interviews with young people in a comparative study exploring online youth political expression in democratic and non-democratic contexts. This presenter discusses challenges of qualitative research when working with young people, especially marginalized youth, who utilize hidden forms of expression to engage in politics. Finally, our respondent will invite audience members into the discussion by offering a reflection on the four presentations and asking session attendees to comment on their own research experiences and larger implications they see for the study of youth political expression online.