Airi-Alina Allaste, guest researcher funded by the Kone Foundation, survey of youth political participation via social media.
As a research subject, Airi-Alina Allaste focuses on TikTok and municipal elections in Finland and Estonia. Currently, Allaste collects data on Finnish municipal elections. In mid-October, local elections will also take place in Estonia, where the voting age is 16.
The global use of social media platforms has fundamentally transformed contemporary politics. Discussions and electoral campaigns are increasingly organized on social networks. Some people are creative in using the platforms to their advantage, others might claim that social media only makes the crisis of democracy worse.
Much discussion centered on the general decline in voter turnout and apathy among young people. According to Allaste, the situation is not that simple. Social media in particular are thought to offer new methods of policymaking. The opportunities offered by social media can be of particular importance in countries without an established civil society.
âThe possibilities for finding information have increased dramatically,â notes Allaste. âThat said, the spread of disinformation is a natural consequence. Algorithms could fuel political polarization. “
For this reason, TikTok
Allaste is interested in creative and alternative participation and how young people use social media platforms to be active in politics.
âThe practices of the TikTok platform provide an excellent opportunity to explore the imagination of users. In addition, it is very popular with young people. And yet, there isn’t a lot of research-based knowledge and analysis of how the platform is used, for example, in politics.
Allaste finds it interesting to observe how young people express their political views through music, dance and performance.
âTikTok has the potential to facilitate and increase active participation. Political ideas and opinions can be presented in an attractive form, which makes it easy to disseminate them. Unfortunately, TikTok’s ease of use and form of expression can also increase xenophobic and racist activity, and you can’t always verify the veracity of TikTok videos or make anyone assume that they are. “
An audience without limits
TikTok encourages people to create content, and anyone can join the platform, which doesn’t have restricted groups. Communication takes place via video recordings, which can attract huge audiences that are not limited by the number of friends or followers as in old social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter.
âWhile I recognize the potential risks of the platform, I believe that the performative and engaging nature of TikTok also sparks young people’s interest in politics and grows as citizens,â says Allaste.
Allaste believes that social media can play a key role in empowering and expressing the younger generation, making it an important environment for investigating creative political thought. The new forms of participation employed by young people are not sufficiently recognized in politics.
âFor example, the results of expert interviews with decision-makers in eight EU Member States showed that while respondents repeatedly mentioned the obligation of young people to participate, they never mentioned social media. In many countries, politicians and decision-makers make a clear distinction between young people active in organizations and those they see as mere passive suspensions on social media. “
More media education is needed
Media literacy takes on increasing weight when trying to make the most of the benefits of social media and avoid risk factors.
It is important for young people to familiarize themselves with the technical characteristics of platforms, how algorithms work and their effect on communication. At the same time, young activists who use social media are already well informed on these issues.
âYouth participation experiences and practices as well as their skills could be used in civic education to include a youth perspective.â