Politics and The Facebook Generation

Posted on April 8, 2012

Too many young people are disengaged from the political process, but it’s not their fault. We must do more to engage them before it’s too late, and an entire generation becomes dangerously disenfranchised.

According the The Electoral Commission, there are over 1 million 18 year olds in the UK using Facebook. That’s twice as many as are registered to vote. Which is worse – the fact that so few young people are engaged with politics or that we have allowed this to happen?

We’re quick to blame many things on younger generations, but this isn’t one we can pin on them. Our youngsters have lost touch with politics because politicians have driven them away. The emergence of anodyne, self-centred career MPs has broken the ties of respect that young people need for motivation. They have become victims of another generation’s profligacy and self-centredness and encumbered by a level of debt that is unprecedented, much of it generated by paying for services that used to be free. They will inherit a world that promises far less than it did their parents. Why should they engage with a political structure when it increasingly discriminates against them?

This is a scenario that should fill us all with dread. When an entire generation feels disengaged the risks to democracy and social stability are significant, with mass social unrest a likely consequence. Look up ‘the precariat’ on Google, and you’ll see what I mean. The riots in London during the summer of 2011 should tell us all we need to know about the fragility of social cohesion and the damage that just a small number of  disengaged people can cause.

Re-engaging our youth in politics must be a priority, but the manner in which it is carried out needs to be properly considered. No condescending attitude; no looking at young adults as an inferior, less knowledgable version of ourselves and, critically, we must listen to them. The live in a world that is very different to the one we grew up in. Only then will we be able to create the conditions needed for reconciliation and re-engagement. We need to use engagement strategies that are inclusive, intimate, relevant and not the typical top down dictatorial approach favoured by out of touch politicians and civil servants.

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