The digital world offers thousands of sources

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Young people today can hardly imagine life without digital media and above all social networks, like YouTube, Snapchat or Facebook.
This is why Teachtoday talked with the net activist and blogger Markus Beckedahl about the impact of social media on opinion formation.
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Mr. Beckedahl, is the conversation about the myriad possibilities of social media still important to you?

It’s very important! But I’m also conscious of the fact that I can’t sit down with all of the people I communicate with in a cozy spot and have a quiet, personal conversation. Frequently, I only have a short time and that’s where digital media are a big help.

From the perspective of a journalist: Have social media changed the way young people form their opinions about politics, for example?

What’s changed more than anything else: There are many more sources of opinion. This is the challenge today, and not just for young people. There used to be less media, and for many people, it was clear that most were at least trustworthy. Today, the digital world offers thousands of sources. So, it isn’t always easy to classify information these days. I’ll give an example: The information someone sees on Facebook depends on how they use Facebook, that is, which friends they follow and what topics they prefer to have a look at. Facebook filters content according to user behavior. It favors things that the user clicks on. People often don’t understand that, especially young people.

So, as a user, you see content that more often confirms your own beliefs?

Yes, that can happen, you can curl up in your own filter bubble and only receive information that corresponds to what you are interested in and believe. The actual impact of the filter bubble has not been scientifically proven, however. There are still too few research results. But there is a risk of falling into a simplified worldview.

In your view, how do young people get informed through media these days?

Above all they communicate via Messenger; that’s where they share a lot of content. Snapchat and Instagram are important, but with those it’s more about self-representation than about sharing current affairs. As far as traditional TV goes, especially news programs, it’s only the older kids who watch, but mostly together with their parents.

Children and adolescents turn to YouTube rather.

In the political sphere, there are relatively few formats for young people. For those that are out there, I get the feeling it’s mostly teachers watching. As if they’re thinking: Let’s see what kids are watching. Most successful YouTube formats are just for entertainment.

Is that cause for concern?

No, back in the day, no one rushed out to read policy books put out by research institutes. I think that adults should accept that children and adolescents have other interests. Instead, adults should offer things that young people are interested in and involve them more in decision-making processes.

Is there even such a thing as a guide for young people through the media jungle?

Of course, YouTube is proving that as we speak. A few years ago, the Bravo magazin was an important guide for youngsters in Germany going through puberty. This role is now being taken over by YouTubers. They take on topics that young people are interested in. Older people may have trouble understanding what is going on. Social media work very differently, to put it simply. But with many phenomena of digitization, we’re actually talking about societal phenomena.

What do you mean?

Populism for example has always existed. Is it growing now because digital media allow for its rapid spread or is globalization playing a larger role, because social conditions are becoming ever more precarious for people? It’s tough to give a definite answer in response to this question. Because both technological progress and social phenomena are significant here. I find this dichotomy is reflected in the media world as well. If you grew up with newspapers, the communication forms that young people use can be incomprehensible. There’s nothing out of the ordinary there.

What can you recommend to parents in this regard?

Get interested in the topics that interest young people. Listen to them and talk with them about it.

About the interviewee: Markus Beckedahl is editor in chief and founder of netzpolitik.org. The blog deals with digital freedom rights and other internet politics issues. He is also founder of the conference re:publica, which annually deals with topics such as the digital society and Web 2.0.

The interview was conducted by Martin Daßinnies.

More in our “Opinion formation” dossier
/mediabase/img/4333.jpg Social media can influence the personal views and opinions of children and young people. Digital opinion leaders
/mediabase/img/4008.gif Social networks are great for spreading useful information but there’s a lot of false information out there, especially on such networks. Fact, fact, fake, fact

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