The Influence of Internet Use on the Political Participation of Youth in Ikeja, Lagos.

AuthorEze, Victor C.
PositionReport

Introduction

Studies have revealed that the youth are not much active in politics as were their parents (Putnam, 2000; Mindich, 2005). A breakdown of this discovery shows that the situation is not related to the age of the youth but is attributable to disenchantment towards politics. This increasing attitudinal change is mainly caused by individual quest for pleasure, and lack of attention to political events in one's immediate community. In general, members of this age group are less interested in seeking political information about their community. The survey conducted by Mindich (2005) reveals that there is a long-term decreasing interest in news by youth in the USA: this group also spends lesser time on reading or viewing the news than their parents, leading to limited knowledge of politics. Thus, members of this age bracket are best regarded as possessing 'thin citizenship' (Delli and Keeter, 1996), they only follow the outlines of politics and, in many cases, do not bother to engage actively in politics. Buttressing this, the same study by Mindich (2005) indicates that the rate of voters turn-out at elections by American youth is on the decline over the past forty years from 50.9 percent in 1964 to 32.3 percent in 2000. The same pattern of voter's apathy was discovered in Canada. The trend is observable in both new democracies like Ukraine (Kuzio, 2006), and in old democracies like the United States (Bennet, 2000) and Britain (Henn, Weisten and Forrest, 2005). In Nigeria, a growing democracy, the signs of political lethargy are noticeable from studies conducted by International IDEA (2011) which shows that since 2003, voter-turnout in Nigerian elections has been declining from 69.8% in 2003 to 58.0% in 2007 and 53.7% in 2011. A current research in Nigeria has also exposed the low levels of political participation (M'Bayo, 2006 and Okoye, 2009). According to Blais, Gidengil and Nevitte (2004: 221),

The most recent generations are less prone to vote in good part because they pay less attention to politics and because they are less likely to adhere to the norm that voting is not only a right, but also a moral duty. The decline in turnout thus reflects a larger cultural change. This development is not peculiar to North America as similar trends are observable in Western Europe, Japan and Latin America (Niemi and Weisberg, 2001), but the EUYOPART research into political participation by the youth suggests that the young Europeans' interest in politics might increase with their age (EUYOPART, 2006).

However, some scholars have offered different interpretations to the seemingly low political participation by youth. A group of scholars argue that the political scene is witnessing a transformation whereby young people may not necessarily belong to political parties nor take part in formal political debates but rather engage in movements and networks (Norris 2002, Della Porta and Mosca, 2005; Di Maggio, Hargittai, Neuman and Robinson, 2001).

These scholars claim that the youth are interested in politics that is slightly different from that practiced by their parents. They may not become members of political parties but are active in non-governmental groups. They may not go to general elections but will express their opinion about specific issues. These new forms of political participation shows what Castells (2001) calls 'networked individualism' -a situation whereby people do not relate to stable political groups but form transitory alliances based on dynamic interests. Indeed, networked individualism has been used to describe a new pattern of sociability and may also be used to describe transformations of political participation in modern society (Wellman, 2001). One sphere of influence that appears to offer some hope for political participation by the youth is the Internet. Several studies have been conducted as a result of the raging argument over the noticeable decline in the patterns of the youth' political participation in relation to the Internet (Calenda and Meijer, 2007; Loader, 2007).

The Internet is perceived as promising a new optimism for participation by the youth. It is a new public terrain which provides users different opportunities for expressing their political behaviour (Kann, Berry, Gant and Zager, 2007; Stanley and Weare, 2004; Wellman, Haase and Hampton, 2001; Shah, Kwak and Holbert, 2001). The Internet offers new opportunities--one can easily build a website and express opinions on key societal issue, campaigning through e-mail is a fast and cheap way to gather support. There are plenty examples on the various roles played by the Internet in politics. This is, in the main, seen in the various ways the Internet has been currently employed in modern day politics. For instance, the 2004 US presidential campaign of Howard Dean opened up new interconnection between Internet and the politics (Calenda and Meijer, 2007). One could argue that the net creates a new playground for politics. In addition, because the youth are increasingly spending much time on the Internet, it is expected that their political participation may happen in that digital environment. Thus, Kann et al. (2007) attribute recent rise in the turnout of young people at presidential elections in the USA to the online political involvement of the youth.

Earlier studies have focused on examining how the Internet influences the political participation of the youth (Kann et al, 2007; Stanley and Weare, 2004). That has resulted in scholars taking sides as to whether the Internet aids political participation or not. Nevertheless, the noticeable decline in political participation among Nigerian youth and their increasing use of the Internet establishes the need to examine how the Internet and politics play out in the lives of the youth.

Statement of the Problem

There is increasing apathy towards politics among the youth generally and Nigerian youth also manifest this noticeable political apathy. This has resulted in scholars making various efforts to revive the interest of the youth in politics. Some empirical studies have suggested that the Internet holds the answer to the discovered dwindling of interest in political participation among the youth.

While it is a well-known fact that while most youth make use of the Internet, most of them are on it for social purpose (Urista, Dong and Day, 2008). This discovery makes it difficult for anybody to totally lay claim to the fact that the Internet is a communication tool which will bring about changes in the ways youth participate in politics or even bring about increased interest in politics among the youth. Already done studies and ongoing ones have mainly been directed at measuring the effect of the Internet will have on the political participation of the youth. While some arrive at the conclusion that the Internet will increase the political participation of the youth, others disagree.

However, it is stunning to note that the Internet has been linked to such popular political movements like the Arab Spring in the Arab world in 2011 and the Occupy Nigeria in 2012, which brought about political changes (Critchely, 2012). While debates are rife as to whether the Internet influenced such movements, the role played by the Internet cannot be whittled down. This study examines how the youth, who are active users of the Internet (Internetworldstats, 2012), are influenced to participate in politics as a result of the Internet, and also how their participation in politics can result to Internet use.

This study does not undertake the usual effort to examine only the effect of Internet use on political participation which has populated literary space, rather it is a two-way study to discover how the use of Internet impacts political participation and how participation in politics leads to increased use of the Internet. Also, studies on the relationship between Internet use and political participation among group of users like the youth in Nigeria are rare. This research will fill that gap. Since Nigerian youth are increasingly making use of the Internet, hence the need for this research is situated on that fact. In the light of this, this study examines and properly situates the interplay of Internet use and political participation in the lives of youth in Ikeja, Lagos state.

Literature Review

The Youth and Internet Use

The Internet has become all pervasive in the lives of young people (Guan and Subrahmanyam, 2009:1). They employ the Internet for a lot of things. This medium represents both risks and opportunities for young people who are the most active users. A recent study conducted in South Africa shows that the youth account for nearly three quarter of total Internet users in the country (Newmediatrendwatch, 2012). According to the same report, in February 2012, 74.7% of all Internet users in Thailand were under the age of 35 (Newmediatrendwatch, 2012). These younger Internet users account for a high percentage of the web population and command an even greater share of time spent online. Also late 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project shows that the youth are more likely than others to use major social media (Pewinternet.org, 2012). In Nigeria, youth make more use of the Internet than the adults as discovered by Fasae and Aladeniyi (2012).

Globally, the Internet has become a very important tool for the youth as most of them place more value in it than visiting friends, dating, listening to music (Cisco, 2012). A recent study, which was conducted among 2,800 professionals in their 20s and college...

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