Youth Protest: Political and Social Participation in the Digital Age

Although, under the current restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, only twelve scholars from nine different countries were able to participate in this seminar taking place from July, 12th to 14th 2020 at the Katholischen Akademie St. Jakobushaus in Goslar, the seminar did not lack lively exchange. The seminar was led by Dr. Thomas Krüggeler and Father Prof. Dr. Thomas Eggensperger OP.

Internet and digitalisation have considerably expanded the opportunities for political participation and protest among young people and have changed the organisation of political action to a large extent. This implicates both opportunities, such as easier communication, and risks, e.g. manipulation of information. Yet, despite all the digital possibilities, the hashtag is still far from replacing the megaphone. Marcus Spittler from the WZB Berlin Social Science Center (Department of Democracy and Democratization) focused in his main lecture on the connection between youth protest in the digital and non-digital world. Topics of environmental or women’s movements as well as populist concerns can be developed and discussed in the digital world, but their public impact depends on their contents being broadcasted in traditional media, such as newspapers and television. “Public space, especially the urban one, is (still) the central arena for expressing dissatisfaction”, said Spittler. The images resulting from these protests pave the way to the television news which is absolutely essential. This is not only true for the movement for democracy in Hong Kong but also for the Fridays for Future protests in Europe.

The participants’ presentations showed that while authoritarian regimes could indeed successfully disturb and impede political participation on the Internet, young experts do find ways to outmanoeuvre algorithms and use foreign servers for their purposes. An Egyptian activist of the Arab Spring was quoted in 2011 as saying, “(W)e use Facebook to schedule the protest, Twitter to coordinate, and You Tube to tell the world. “
However, a still unsolved problem in democratic systems remains the mediation between digital activism and a political system based on participation in political parties and democratic institutions. Net activists and political systems have to develop ways here to draw closer together.

A historically very informative guided tour through the famous imperial palace (Kaiserpfalz) and the historic centre of Goslar rounded off an intensive and successful seminar, during which the participants also enjoyed the social interaction in the middle of the Corona crisis.