Civic Participation of Youth in the Digital Word

Maria Stage • 1 September 2021

This analysis conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) aims at understanding how young civic actors in the Europe and Central Asia (ECA)1 region use digital tools for political and social participation, the topics that they are motivated about and the opportunities and obstacles they encounter in their digital activism. The goal of the analysis is to serve as a conversation opener and to lead to more in-depth research and dialogue between stakeholders interested in advancing digital youth activism and civic engagement. 

It revealed that for youth activists, access to internet could give them a strong sense of empowerment and belonging. Young civic actors see it as a tool for inclusivity and to engage other directly, as well as to reach and convince more people, even beyond borders. According to 70% of them, online activism gives higher visibility to important issues. Young actors are active over a broad variety of topics, unfolding the diversity of their civic engagement.

At the same time, the generational gap online means that young civic actors are not able to fully interact with public institutions via online platforms, limiting their impact. For 82% of the youth surveyed, this impact remains also unfulfilled if their work online is not paired up with face-to-face work.

Internet restrictions and online harassment are among the biggest barriers for youth online participation, while privacy, cybersecurity, the presence of fake news and extremist content are also of concern for young activists. If the ECA region is one of the most equal in terms of parity of internet access, gender inequality is still present online, impacting the way young civic actor’s work is viewed.

The Covid-19 pandemic clearly reinforced the importance of activism online. It has also excluded more youth, especially the ones that lacks internet tools and skills. The digital divide remains a serious issue in the region.

Hence, more efforts must me made toward young activists online: the promotion of their activities should be combined with a better protection, while a more inclusive participation has to be achieved. This can be only done through further cooperation between all stakeholders and precise research on this topic.

More about the report and more about UNDP in Europe and Central Asia