The Effect of Social Media on Civic Engagement
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“The most serious danger Americans now face, greater than terrorism, is that our country’s future may not end up in the hands of a citizenry capable of sustaining the liberty that has been America’s most precious legacy.” (Damon, 2011) According to many, the younger generation of today is seen as politically unmotivated, uneducated, and uninterested. Declining levels of civic engagement have incited panic and have caused people to question the strength of American democracy. “If trends continue, young Americans will grow up without an understanding of the benefits, privileges, and duties of citizens in a free society, and without acquiring the habits of character needed to live responsibly in one.” (Damon, 2011) The conclusion drawn by many is that the younger generation’s lack of participation is a direct result of their lack of interest, respect, or any semblance of appreciation for politics and civic engagement more broadly. (Coley, 2012) If this is true, it certainly is a cause for panic, but are young people today really isolated and removed from the world of politics? Do they not feel a need to give back or participate in their community? This paper proposes that the question is not one of waning motivation or interest, but instead a matter of changing forums for action. Is it that the millennial generation has become less civically engaged or is it that forms of civic engagement have shifted in such a way that interests and motivations are not rewarded with the same recognition? Civic engagement is defined here as “individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.” (APA, 2012) To understand the supposed lack of interest among the young, millennial generation, attention must be paid to the changing nature and environment in which civic engagement is occurring. The supposed terror that will ensue when the country is left in the hands of the millennials must be understood not as a consequence of disinterest or lack of involvement, but instead as a consequence of a changing world in which civic engagement has been relegated to the cyber realm through social media and the internet. The goal of this paper is to shift the discussion of civic engagement away from focusing solely on an individual’s intention or motivation for volunteering, and instead to focus on the resulting action or lack there-of.