Under the leadership of the Swedish Greta Thunberg, “School Strikes for Climate” was established in 2018. Young people around the world participated in climate marches to clear the consciences of political leaders and demand ambitious climate policies. The protests developed into a global movement in 2019 and received significant media attention.
Criticism of the participating youth was not far off, not least in Online comment snippets from the media. In the comments section of HLN’s website, Rene writes: “Why absent from global warming? Allow these “green” youth to strike during Werchter, Pukkelpop, Lokerse Feesten and all those other festivals. Then no mountain of environmentally harmful waste will be left behind .
How do young people commit to the climate? Do they do it online too? Were the climate rallies more than just a way to skip school? With these questions in mind, we at Ghent University investigated how this could happen political repertoire of young citizens in the context of the topic of climate. This reference includes all the possible ways in which you as a citizen can cast your vote on a social cause: from elections, to demonstrations, or changing your Facebook profile picture.
Our results show how young people participate in climate in many different ways. Their actions often went beyond the weekly protests. Moreover, the motivations for taking action in different ways turn out to be more subtle than is often suggested.
Young people develop a new vision of citizenship
Young people are a controversial target group when it comes to political participation, both in scientific and social debate. There is a strong assumption that young people are no longer interested in politics: they are lazy, apathetic and unwilling to make an effort for social change. To support these arguments, declining voter participation in elections and declining party membership are often cited.
From recent research, we understand how young people are not necessarily turning away from “politics” but rather against a particular form of politics. Young people find less affiliation with traditional forms of political participation, which are often facilitated by government (eg municipal councils, parties, elections). Increasingly they are looking for ways to give a unique interpretation of their engagement. Young people want to be able to inform themselves and stick to the topics that interest them personally, at a time that suits them.
This flexible view of citizenship is expressed in constantly new ways. For example, think pink clothes Mass knitted hats in protest of former US President Trump’s misogynistic comments. A form of activity that also craft he is called.
Social media also fits seamlessly with the desire to provide a more individualized interpretation of social engagement. The accessible nature of platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok allow you to join a social movement, such as #MeToo or Black Lives Matter, at a low cost.
Different types of climatic activity
The climate movement is also characterized by this kind of flexible participation. Not only has it been worn by young people, but there has also been a strong role for social media to draw attention to the movement. The emails have been linked to the global movement with the hashtag #fridaysforfuture. Facebook events Then it was used to announce local protest rallies.
We conducted our study on 498 Flemish and Brussels secondary school students. Through a questionnaire we asked them how and why they took action on the topic of climate. Our results show how young people deal with the issue of climate in different ways and thus shape their personal engagement repertoire.
For example, we identified a group of young people who focused specifically on participating in weekly climate protests (16.67% of the sample). It is remarkable how these young people have also aggressively used social media to complement their engagement. For example, they communicated frequently on the topic of climate via instant messaging (Facebook Messenger) and used Facebook events to indicate their involvement in their online networks (by positioning themselves in the “present”).
Another group (14.26%) was distinguished by the diversity of their commitment to the climate. Not only did these young people volunteer and take part in protest rallies on the weekends, but they also spoke forcefully about the climate issue online. By posting messages, sharing petitions and events, and joining online groups on the topic of climate, young people have contributed significantly to the climate movement’s e-mail.
Finally, we found that nearly one-fifth of the youth in the study (19.48%) were primarily active on the topic of climate within closed groups on Facebook and via instant messaging. Their exclusive online engagement has a somewhat private character and is therefore not an obvious form of activity. However, these young people show a certain alertness to the topic of climate and are committed to the topic, albeit not in a very obvious way. So it is entirely possible that these young people will turn to other forms of participation in the future, if they so desire.
Online protest: laziness or real activism?
Frequently expressed criticism of youth activism is related to the role social media plays in their participation. After all, forms of online activity, such as sharing petitions or changing your Facebook profile picture, are often dismissed as irrelevant’.lax”. This term is a travel bag evader On Activity It refers to the idea that people who interact online do so primarily out of comfort and laziness, without having any social influence.
Moreover, a kind of moral panic has arisen around this type of activity: researchers Critics assumed that individuals who participated online would no longer be willing to engage in “real” and offline forms of participation. Young people in particular will be vulnerable to this inaction and therefore no longer go to the polls.
Scientific studies find little support for this hypothesis. While it is indeed true that young people are strongly attracted to social media as a vehicle for political action, our study also shows how this often occurs in combination with other, often offline forms of action (such as protesting or volunteering). The foundation is a way to strengthen movement and draw attention to a problem, by addressing a new audience and spreading the message widely.
Young people’s motives are often unfairly questioned. Participating in climate protests was thought to be just a way to bypass school. On the Internet, young people are said to be mainly busy beautifying their own reputation. Once again, our study indicates the opposite. The group of young people whose participation revolved mainly around participating in the protests was primarily driven by concerns about global warming. In addition, young people indicated that they mainly use social media as a means of persuading, mobilizing and informing others about the topic of climate. It turns out that the motivation to present themselves positively has absolutely no effect on young people’s online participation.
In short, young people are often misunderstood, both in the social debate and within scientific research. It is no different when it comes to their political participation and activism. Modern visions refer to a more nuanced situation, where young people mainly want to focus on topics that are close to their hearts, at a time and in a way that suits them.
Our study demonstrated this in the context of the climate protests in 2019, as young people took action both online and offline to raise climate awareness. Although the focus was primarily on ‘climate absenteeism’, an important (online) aspect of youth participation was not disclosed in the social debate. To get an accurate picture of today’s activity, we can’t ignore social media.