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Young people, digital media and engagement: a meta-analysis of research

Faculty Advisor




youth, digital media, political behavior, civic engagement, meta-analysis

Abstract (summary)

New technologies raise fears in public discourse. In terms of digital media use and youth, the advice has been to monitor and limit access to minimize the negative impacts. However, this advice would also limit the positive impacts of digital media. One such positive impact is increased engagement in civic and political life. This paper uses meta-analysis techniques to summarize the findings from 106 survey-based studies (965 coefficients) about youth, digital media use, and engagement in civic and political life. In this body of research, there is little evidence to suggest that digital media use is having dire impacts on youth’s engagement. We find that the positive impacts depend on directly political uses of digital media, such as blogging, reading online news, and online political discussion. These online activities have offline consequences on participation, such as contacting officials, talking politics, volunteering, and protesting. We also find a very strong relationship between online political activities, such as joining political groups and signing petitions, with offline political activities, which undermine claims of slacktivism among youth. Finally, while research generally assumes a causal flow from digital media to participation, the evidence for the alternative causal flow is strong and has very different implications on interventions designed to address youth’s levels of engagement in civic and political life.

Publication Information

Boulianne, Shelley and Yannis Theocharis. 2018. "Young People, Digital Media, and Engagement: A Meta-Analysis of Research." Social Science Computer Review XX(X). doi:10.1177/0894439318814190.


Item Type

Article Post-Print




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