The Effectiveness of Social Media in Youth Political Participation in Lebanon
Elie Atallah Bou Mefleh()
يعد استخدام وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي في العملية السياسية ظاهرة رئيسة في علم اجتماع الشّباب والسياسة. يهدف البحث الحالي إلى التحقيق في وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي والمشاركة السياسية للشّباب في سياق لبنان مع التركيز على أهمية الاهتمام السياسي ومنصات التواصل الاجتماعي باستخدام نظرية الاستخدامات، والإشباع ونظرية المشاركة المعرفية. جرى استخدام طريقة كمية من خلال استطلاع عبر الإنترنت لجمع البيانات من المشاركين، وملء 202 استبيان. للأهداف السياسية، يستخدم Facebook و Twitter و Instagram من غالبية المستجيبين. أدى اختراع وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي إلى تقدم ثوري من حيث المشاركة العلنية للأشخاص لأسباب سياسية إذا كانوا مهتمين سياسيًا، كما تمنح منصات التواصل الاجتماعي، المستخدمين حرية المساهمة بمقاطع الفيديو والصور وتحديثات الحالة والميزات الشيقة التي تتيح لهم الانخراط في الخطاب السياسي.
من الممكن استنتاج أن وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي مناسبة للاستخدام كمنصة سياسية عبر الإنترنت وتمنح المشاركين فرصة للمشاركة في العملية السياسية لبلده.
الكلمات المفتاحيّة: الشباب اللبناني – المشاركة السياسية – الاهتمام بالشأن السياسي – وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي – منصات إلكترونية – المواطنة – المدافعة.
The use of social media in the political process is a major phenomenon in the sociology of youth and politics. The present research aims to investigate social media and youth political participation in Lebanon’s context with the focus on the importance of political interest and social media platforms using the Uses and Gratifications Theory and Cognitive Engagement Theory. A quantitative method was used through an online survey to collect data from participants and 202 questionnaires were filled in. For political objectives, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are used by the majority of responders. The invention of social media has resulted in a revolutionary advancement in terms of people openly participating for political reasons if they are politically interested.
Social media platforms also give users the freedom to contribute videos, images, and status updates and interesting features that make it possible for them to engage in political discourse.
It is possible to draw the conclusion that social media is appropriate for use as an online political platform and gives respondents a chance to engage with their nation’s political process.
Key words: Lebanese youth, political participation, political interest, social media, social media platforms.
The Internet has changed since its foundation, and its influence on politics has shifted as a result of the spread of new digital channels.It is often assumed that social media plays an important role in disseminating information and political statements (Chadwick, 2013). Social media platforms are significant channels of communication via which political communities or ordinary citizens can provide information about their activities, promote their perspectives on certain topics, share information from numerous sources, and report on matters that are relevant to them at a given time.
Young people are redefining political engagement by using social media to find new ways to express their political preferences outside of traditional political engagement such as voting or joining a political party. For young citizens, the internet may serve as a compensating mechanism. It is commonly known that young adults in their teens are less likely to participate in institutional political activities because they are focused with finishing their schooling, finding employment, and making the transition to adulthood (Verba et al., 1995).
Importance of the study
The right to participate is a fundamental right. It is one of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ guiding principles, which has been reinforced in numerous other conventions and declarations. Young people are empowered to play a critical role in own their communities’ development by actively participating, which helps them learn essential life skills, develop understanding of human rights and citizenship, and encourage constructive civic engagement. There is a new voice of youth. Here lay the importance of the current research by showing that young generation, who were seen as marginalized group in the political realm, now can express freely their political opinions online and have a serious impact in offline political participation.
Purpose of the study
The purpose of the present study is to study the effectiveness of social media use by youth political participation in Lebanon regarding the usage of social media platforms, their political interest, their political knowledge and their political participation. The research aims to determine what types of social media platforms are mostly used by youth for political desires, the types of activity the youth perform on social media to participate in politics, and the role political interest play to participate politically whether online or offline.
Objectives of the study:
- To explain how political interests enhance political participation of youth in Lebanon.
- To know the social media platforms highly used for political participation among young people in Lebanon.
- To know how Lebanese youth use social media platforms for their political purposes and desires.
Thus, the questions that will be studied and then analyzed in the following chapters of the research are as following:
Question 1: What social media platforms are highly impactful on youth political participation in Lebanon?
Question 2: How political interests enhance political participation through social media?
Question 3: How are young Lebanese youth using social media platforms for political participation?
- Literature Review
The term ‘social media’ refers to a web-based and mobile-based interactive medium for communication. According to Biswas et al. (2014), social media is a communication system and a medium of communication that allows users to connect and establish interpersonal relationships through user-generated content. Early in the twenty-first century, social media websites gained popularity. Family members, friends, and strangers could connect online due to social networks like Friendster and My Space. These two websites were subsequently replaced by Facebook, which rose to become one of the most widely used social media platforms in the world with billions of users.
The usage of the Internet and other e-activities enhances online users’ political understanding and encourages political involvement and interaction. Social media has created numerous forms of political participation and altered political communication patterns. Siluveru (2015) sought to learn more about the role of social and digital media in political communication, concluding that social media is used to foster social relationships and keep users informed about current events. The use of social media for political communication was studied by Stieglitz, Brockmann, and Xuan (2012), who discovered a strong association between politicians and social media users. Furthermore, due to social networking sites, voter-politician engagement has substantially improved.
Over the last decade, a lot of study has been done on the impact of social media and the Internet on both online and offline political engagement. For example, Facebook has grown into one of the most important sites for online users to discuss politics and engage in offline political participation.
Henry Jenkins (2009) presented a valuable paradigm for understanding how social media encourages young people to participate in politics. Jenkins’ paradigm is based on the social determinism approach, which looks at how technologies interact with the cultural groups that build up around them, as well as the activities they support. Social determinism holds that human social interaction, rather than technology, determines social change.
Marcheva (2008) discovered that there was a strong link between social media platforms and collective movements in another study. Facebook assisted in the comprehension of diverse perceptions of political participation, such as debates on critical matters.
Political interest, according to Russo and Stattin (2017), “is a key for the survival and development of democracies.” Simply put, political interest is a person’s level of attraction to politics (Dostie – Goulet, 2009). According to the same author, A politically interested citizen will pay particular attention to one or several issues related to public space or collective concern, such as the environment, public policy, human rights, or an election, to mention a few.
In Lebanon, social media could encourage people to participate more freely, as long as they are encouraged and supported by a democratic environment. It ensures that anybody can freely communicate their thoughts and opinions on social media (Lee 2017, Daher et al. 2017, Paler et al.2020). Thus, Lebanon’s social media activities, which have grown quite active, may increase the electronic media features inherent to democratic transitions. The higher the rate of social media use, the greater is the impact of social media on social movements and political change in Lebanon.
Youth participation in political life has been a double-edged sword in Lebanon’s post-war transition. It represented both a desire to participate in political processes and dissatisfaction with Lebanon’s political structure. Lebanon’s youth have mirrored the Arab youth population’s overall interest in supporting freedoms and civil liberties, and have used information technology, namely social media, to participate in political debates (Maamari and Zein, 2014). At the same time, Lebanon’s youth have shown signals of dissatisfaction with the country’s political system. The latter is criticised for emphasizing sectarian politics over individual rights relegating youth and gender concerns (Cammett, 2014).
Theoretical Framework: Uses and Gratification Theory
Uses and gratifications is a long-standing and well-developed theory in communication that defines reasons for acquiring knowledge through media. Uses and gratifications theory is an approach to understanding why and how people actively seek out specific media to satisfy specific needs.
Uses and gratification theory can be applied on this study because it analyses the need of people for media platforms to enhance their political participation and to promote democratic participation especially among young people which the most important category of the society through sharing their opinion online.
- The Research Approach Adopted in the Study:
A quantitative approach was used in the study through a survey. The subjects chosen to be sampled are 202 Lebanese youth from15 to 24 from all over Lebanon regarding to districts (Beirut, Bekaa, Mount Lebanon, South and North). The collection of required data was through an online survey designed on Google Forms that consisted of 33 questions and sent to the participants as a link (http://forms.gl/TevygaGhAZbJBu2v8). It was structured in a way that respondents can answer quickly, accurately and easily.The first set of questions includes demographics; gender, age, district, education, employment status and religion (question 1 to question 6). The second part of the questionnaire is about the social media platforms regarding the type of platforms they use for political matters and the frequency of using these platforms (question 7 to question 14). The question number 15 targets the media literacy of participants which affects their political knowledge.
Furthermore, from question 16 to question 29 two variables were studied: Political participation and political interest. They show how the youth in Lebanon are participating in politics on social media through different activities. These activities could be: persuading others to vote for a certain candidate or party, contacting influential figures (politicians, political analysts/ commentators, religious leaders, social media influencers, journalists), supporting a certain cause (by subscribing, liking page, or following news update from an advocacy group), signing an online petition circulated in social media, expressing opinions or thoughts about politics, engaging in political debates or discussion, sharing information or link to information containing political contents, accessing information about politics from news sites, reading news about politics that are posted by friends, relatives or acquaintances. Moreover these questions show if the youth are participating offline in politics and whether this offline participation is affected by social media or not (voting, political affiliation). The question number 30 is to show the percentage of participants who agree or not on the effectiveness of social media on youth political participation in Lebanon.
The last question (question 31) is to rate the survey from 1 (low) to 5 (high). It allows the survey respondents to assign a value for the study and how they feel about it.
In the current research, a non-probability sampling technique was used., the purposive sampling is employed where the samples are chosen solely on the basis of the researcher’s competence and credibility. In other words, researchers select only those individuals who they believe are appropriate for participation in the study and here are the Lebanese youth from 15 to 24. Here it is necessary to highlight that the term “youth” has no commonly accepted international definition. However, for statistical reasons, the United Nations defines youth as people aged 15 to 24 years old, without prejudice to any other definitions made by member States.
- Results and Findings
Results reveal that Facebook and Instagram are highly used social media platforms to keep the youth category in Lebanon updated concerning news and public affairs whether on national, regional or international level. The last question related to social media platforms was about the most used social media platforms to post or share news, experts‘ analysis, or any other information about politics. Results show that 48.5% of participants use Facebook, 17.8% use Twitter, 45.5% use Instagram, 21.8% use Whatsapp and 9.4%chose the ― Others option. This means, that youth category use all types of social media platforms to express their thoughts and post their opinions about politics or to post or share news, experts’ analysis, or any other information about politics especially on Instagram and Facebook.
The youth category does use social media to a certain extent forpublic purposes but not as their primary tool and it’ s worth mentioning here is the political interest that differs among participants.
The survey results lead to the conclusion that young people in Lebanon use social media as a daily communication tool to express political thoughts and opinions, to engage in political debates and discussions, to share political information or to access political information from different news sites and platforms. Social media affects the political decisions of youth through their exposure to political information on social media whether accidentally or not and that can contribute the offline and online political participation.
- Conclusion and Recommendations
First, to answer the research question regarding the highly impactful social media platforms on political participation among youth in Lebanon, people all over the world use social media applications on a daily basis to learn, discuss politics, have fun, connect with others, and socialize. Lebanese use social media platforms to share political news and video speeches, as well as to take part in political activities. Youth in Lebanon is amash-up of various individuals with varying likes, dislikes, behaviors, attitudes, and allegiance to particular religions, political parties, and social norms. People with various political allegiances share their opinions, defend their preferred political party’s ideology, urge their friends to support that party, and encourage them to cast ballots while also criticizing the policies of rival political parties.
Secondly, the young people engaged in a variety of political activities on social media, including political advocacy, political campaigns, correspondence with politicians, political debates, monitoring and reporting electoral malpractices, public consultations, joining lobbying interest groups, blogging about political issues, and writing letters to elected officials. Youths frequently utilize social media, making it simple for them to use it to engage in political activities.
Third, in spite of the fact that many young people are exposed to news, thoughts, and mobilization activities via online platforms, particularly social media, the majority of young people are not active participants. They get messages but rarely or never send them, or they engage politically in other ways. In addition, young people who participate in online political activism are typically college graduates, politically interested, and digitally skilled. The current research studied political interest which refers to a person’s level of attraction toward politics. An individual who is politically engaged will pay close attention to one or more issues that are related to public concern, such as the environment, public policy, human rights, or an election, to mention a few. A concerned citizen is one who is at least interested in a public concern. The results of the survey showed that the majority of the participants have an access to social media, but they only seek political matters if they are politically interested because the percentage of frequency of using social media for political desires such as seeking news, political debates, discussions, supporting candidates is less than the percentage of people accessible to social media platforms. Political interest, simple terms, refers to young people’s willingness to be politically aware. Lebanese youth are exposed to a lot of information every day, which is explained by the social media platforms’ quick growth and frequency of use.
Even though many young people already know how to make and share digital media, or could learn how to do so, many young people won’t use these opportunities to participate in civic or political life if left to their own devices. That’s why there should best rategies that improve getting young people involved in online politics to learn about and practice the creation and circulation of political content that could lead young people to increase their political interests with a high level of media literacy, in a manner that parallels studies of offline political participation. Young people‘s attention may be drawn to ways they could utilize these abilities to further their civic or political interests, and opportunities could be developed to let them experience and develop a sense of responsibility connected with such activities in addition to fostering digital engagement skills. It is anticipated that these abilities and a corresponding sense of control will promote more involvement. In keeping with these predictions, involvement in educational opportunities aimed at fostering digital engagement literacies was linked to more frequent participation in online political participation
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 – Université Libanaise – Ecole doctorale- Psychology of work- Elieamefleh1@hotmail.com