Social media affecting the youth’s perception of political knowledge

This blog post is part of the ‘Jean Monnet Chair of European Media Governance and Integration Series’ headed by Jean Monnet Chair of European Media Governance & Integration Prof. Katharine Sarikakis, and curated by Wagner Piassaroli Mantovaneli und Markos Mpadanes.


by Laura Marx



Today’s youth is online – Checking out the news feed of Instagram, watching videos on YouTube, posting a statement on Facebook or sharing pictures on Snapchat. Social Media is a natural companion in their everyday life. But it seems to be something far more than that. Greta Thunberg, the head of the Fridays for Future movement, used Social Media as a tool to mobilize young people to join her movement and to strike for climate protection. And it worked. Over hundreds of students worldwide followed her call and protested in their country for climate protection on Fridays. The movement spread like wildfire. Social Media was in this case also a place for political discussion and activism. Thanks to the World Wide Web and digitalization, political debates shift more and more online and are fundamentally changing the means and ways of information gathering and perception. In particular for young grownups, who are at home in the world of Social Media. It leaves the following question behind: Is this kind of influence always positively affecting the youth’s perception of political knowledge and consequently their political participation?

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©pixabay by geralt


Digital natives, that is how today’s youth is called and not without reason. Studies show that almost all children have internet access (Südwest, 2018). Many of them use online search engines, mainly Google, and Social Media for information seeking (Südwest, 2018; Feierabend, LFK & LFK, 2016). Social Media gains an ever-greater influence regarding information gathering. On the contrary, traditional media like newspapers, TV and Radio are bound to be the loser of this battle and are put into the background (Südwest, 2018), although young adults trust more in traditional media (Data out of 2019).

It seems paradoxical: Traditional media is more trusted, but young people prefer to seek news about current events on social media networks or blogs. With regard to the Fridays for Future movement, the essential question would be if the information that circulates about it on social media networks and is received by the youth is enough. Is it enough to give the youth a proper understanding of what Friday for future stands for and which actions are needed for climate protection? I doubt it. Climate change is indeed not a simple topic that can be explained in few words, but requires more explanation because of its complex ecological system and diverse global interactions. Profound knowledge is required. It is a good thing that a voice like the one of environmental activist Greta Thunberg is heard and followed. But simply following her online, could leave the youth with a false sense of being informed. It could actually be a risk for the youth.



Recent research underlines these concerns of the trend towards Social Media as a news source for young adults. It also goes one step further. It claims that you believe that you can stay informed about politics and public affairs just by your general Internet consumption and the information received from your peers within your online social networks. This phenomenon is named as the news-finds-me perception (Zúñiga, Weeks & Ardèvol-Abreu, 2017). First, you have the perception that you feel well informed also you do not purposely follow the news, such as reading newspapers. Second, you have the assumption that news will get to you through your environment and social media network anyways. The news just have to be relevant enough. This leads to the risky view that you do not have to seek information and news, as they will just find you. The news-finds-me perception (Zúñiga, Weeks & Ardèvol-Abreu, 2017) has an effect on political knowledge, especially on the youth. It leaves them with the feeling of being informed about – in this case – climate change and that there is no need for deeper information seeking. But the received information is not always enough to translate direct into political knowledge – knowledge about climate change. It only leaves them with piece of a whole puzzle and makes them not necessarily any wiser. To wrap it up, those kind of Social Media knowledge might give young grownups a false sense of being informed.



Social Media could be a great place to open doors to new and enriching possibilities, as the Friday for Future movement illustrates. Yet, there is a certain risk: The youth is surrounded by Social Media in their everyday life and also seeks information from it, but it could leave them with a false sense of being informed. They are not informed even if they think they are. What is needed, is media competence to raise awareness for this issue. In particular, family and school are important places in the mediation of media competences (Eickelmann, 2017; Hoffmann, 2013). They function as crucial role models and can help young grownups to develop a critical awareness of information from the web (Eickelmann, 2017; Hoffmann, 2013). It has to be made clear that following climate protectors on social media is a good start, but more important is the active information seeking to increase political knowledge and activism.



Eickelmann, B. (2017). Schulische Medienkompetenzförderung. Medienkompetenz, 146.

Feierabend, S., LFK, T. P., & LFK, T. R. (2016). KIM-Studie 2016 Kindheit, Internet, Medien. Basisstudie zum Medienumgang.

Gil de Zúñiga, H., Weeks, B., & Ardèvol-Abreu, A. (2017). Effects of the news-finds-me perception in communication: Social media use implications for news seeking and learning about politics. Journal of computer-mediated communication, 22(3), 105-123.

Hoffmann, B. (2013). Medienkompetenz von Eltern im System Familie. Medienkompetenzförderung für Kinder und Jugendliche, 71.

Südwest, M. F. (2018). JIM-Studie. Basisuntersuchung zum Medienumgang 12-19-Jähriger.



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