Sustainable democracy: Young Danes, information, and democratic engagement in digital society

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Abstract submitted to symposium
Democracy and Digital Disintegration: Actors, Platforms, Citizens
By Gitte Stald
Associate professor, PhD
IT University of Copenhagen
[email protected]

Sustainable democracy:
Young Danes, information, and democratic engagement in digital society
The argument in this paper triangulates three points: young citizens must be seen as bearers of future sustainable democracy (Mascheroni & Murri 2017; Cammaerts et al., 2014); informed citizenship continues to establish a vital element in the understanding of the foundation of sustainable democracy (Bennett 2008); sustainable democracy depends on the collective ability to allow new forms of information and informed, democratic citizenship, and to support young generations to develop democratic self-efficacy (Cortesei et al, 2020). To support the argument, the paper provides analytical insights about young Danes’ own perceptions of their opportunities as informed and engaged citizens, in the context of the challenges that they encounter in actualizing these.
The term Sustainable Democracy is often used to describe development of new democracies by learning from established democracies or an actual connection between sustainability goals and democratic ambition. In the context of this paper, however, the term is used to frame the challenge of sustaining democracy through innovating the idea, foundations, and practices of democracy in alignment with societal development and the experiences and life-practices of young people.
Denmark is a digital society by law, and young Danes are expected to be digitally competent in all social and personal contexts. Despite of this, we, the Danish collective/society have not developed sufficiently, profound innovative strategies for qualifying and integrating new forms of digital information and participation nor for educating young citizens in the prevailing logics of managing digital citizenship and democratic participation. This discrepancy appears to influence discourses about young people as uninformed, uncritical, and unengaged citizens, about the information fatigued youth, and the understanding of social media as providers of fragmented and un-curated information (Cammaerts et al., 2014; Amnå and Ekman, 2014). These discourses are reproduced in youth cultural contexts, despite numerous examples of youth engaging in events, movements, single case causes, and debate (Bennett, 2008; Bastedo, 2014; Stald 2022).
The normative discourses about the quality and trustworthiness of mediated information impact young people’s perceptions and practices in relation to their own level of information. Changing practices affect perceptions of what information and informed citizenship is, what sources can be trusted, and how informed citizenship translates into debate, democratic literacy, and democratic participation. While this is a general finding from the study, there are also many examples of critical reflexivity towards the normative discourses as well as independent and new attitudes regarding the trustworthiness of online as well as traditional information sources (Thorson, 2014; Dahlgren, 2015; Mascheroni, 2017).
Young people develop their own information and debate practices by using available digital media, while including f2f encounters and considering traditional media in their information and debate repertoire. A major challenge is that endless bits of apparently incidental Information from multiple sources pop up on their screens, ephemerally passing (Kalsness & Larsson, 2018; Westlund & Bjur, 2013; Zúñiga et al, 2017). Societal reference points and ideological coherence, e.g. provided by traditionally edited legacy media, are increasingly missing and young people are challenged in their attempt to connect the dots and establish coherent meaningfulness from the information stream.
The study reveals that the respondents’ democratic self-confidence is deeply connected to their perception of being informed; And, information is perceived as a doorway to democratic participation. But a lack of confidence in their own abilities of gaining and understanding what they consider enough information to be able to participate, affects their democratic self-confidence and perception of how much they engage (Cammaerts et al, 2014, Vromen & Collin, 2010). It appears that the concept of democratic participation from a young person’s perspective is more nuanced than assumed.
The paper draws on 16 interviews with 15-24-year-old Danes and a questionnaire with 256 respondents. Both were conducted during spring 2021 in relation to the project Youth, Trust, Information, and Democracy. The study focused on questions about perceptions of information and democratic literacy, including consequences of the Covid-19 lockdown. These findings are supported by results from three representative surveys conducted among Danes from 15 years (Democracy & Citizenship in Digital Society, 2015, 2016, 2017). The 2021 study strategically focuses on a broadly defined majority of young Danes, thus does not involve marginalized and/or vulnerable youth and/or political activists. That would require dedicated studies.
The paper addresses vital questions that are outlined in the call for participation, such as the role of social media in the formation of democratic citizenship, with a particular focus on young people.

Publikationsdato10 nov. 2022
Antal sider2
StatusUdgivet - 10 nov. 2022
BegivenhedDemocracy & Digital Disintegration: Actors, Platforms, Citizens - Stockholm University / The Film House, Stockholm, Sverige
Varighed: 10 nov. 202210 nov. 2022


KonferenceDemocracy & Digital Disintegration: Actors, Platforms, Citizens
LokationStockholm University / The Film House


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