New Media Giving Young People a Voice
May 7, 2012 in Public Diplomacy
The radical growth in online activity has affected our lives in a great many ways, but perhaps none more so than in our ability to not just consume, but share and rapidly disseminate information and news. As a public space, the internet has enabled users to be the authors of ‘new media’, not just passive consumers. The growth of online community has made redundant the barriers to participation presented by traditional media institutions, enabling previously marginalised groups, including young people to have a voice.
Within two decades the internet has grown from a forum utilised by a privileged few to a vast virtual space in which some 2.5 billion users, from even the world’s most remote locations, are able to connect and participate in the global online community. This has proved a powerful platform for young people to subvert traditional media, which may be state controlled, as in China, monopolised by a wealthy minority, as in Australia, or which simply is not reflective of their views or experiences.
The potential of new media, and the importance of young people’s engagement with it, has been no more powerfully demonstrated than by the events of the Arab Spring or the evolution of the Occupy Wall Street movement. These events represent important junctures in contemporary history, which we will no doubt continue to reflect upon for many decades to come. Beyond these zeitgeist shifting events, the relevance of new media to young people on much smaller scales is equally as important. This is because new media is not simply a platform for digesting news and events, nor a forum for connecting like-minded individuals; it also links geographically distant groups of people and introduces a plethora of previously unheard views, ideas and experiences into our collective narratives. It facilitates collaboration and provides the opportunity to transform the ideas expressed online into an organised protest, an awareness raising campaign or a research project.
There are as many online networks as there are interested young people, AIIA Access being just one of those. The AWID community enables young feminist activists to access news and publish work, locate funding, post an event and connect to thousands of other women from all over the globe. Tawasul, Arabic for ‘connecting,’ provides an online network for young journalists in Syria to report and publish their experiences and opinions, an important platform in an environment where ‘new media’ has become one of the primary sources of information for the rest of the world. And in Africa, the youth-led development forum, Africa Youth Human Rights Network provides a social network for young professionals across the continent and links them with training and resources.
Alternatives to mainstream media have always been present, through university publications, street zines and independent print publications. However, the internet has provided young people with access to professional tools and resources, and has enlarged audiences to potentially millions of users globally.
The value of ‘online space’ as a public space is readily understood by younger generations used to rapidly evolving information technologies. For many who have been privileged by the dominance of traditional media the emergence of new media is perceived as a threat. As with so many other developments that have displaced established power structures, this perceived threat has led to outright censorship and attempts to introduce much contested regulation. A notable example of this was the astonishing attempts by the failing Mubarak regime to ‘shut down’ the internet in Egypt during the 2011 protests.
The internet is a truly democratic space in which the well-informed expert, the amateur and those with malicious intent have equal access to create and publish content. It captures the kaleidoscope of human potential, which has never proved amenable to censorship or regulation. As governments and large media corporations struggle to adapt to the changing nature of global communication, the true value of this new medium will be borne out by young people and online communities prepared to harness its potential.