Youth at the centre of the information maelstrom
Numerous studies (i.e. Van Damme, Kobbernagel & Schrøder 2017; Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017) have documented over the past decades that patterns of information are changing profoundly across the population and that in particular young people confer to digital sources for a broad variation of news, background information, and entertainment.
Worries about the consequences of this development for the information level and critical reflexivity among young citizens are often expressed across sectors in society that deal with informed citizenship, debate, engagement and transformations of the foundations of democracy is. One of the concerns is that young people lack the ability to contextualize the random bits of fake news that they happen to stumble upon in smart phone facilitated social media filter bubbles, where they spend the major part of their time, while the echoes of voices that repeat the same stupid bits of random, not-validated information fill up the space. Public, academic ((Amnå & Ekman 2014; Bastedo 2014), and even youth cultural (Stald 2017) discourses repeat and promote these concerns. These are sad and worrying perspectives if we consider coherent, deep information, informed debates, and critical reflexivity to establish the cornerstone of democracy.
New data, however, from three consecutive, annual surveys conducted among Danes from age 16+ nuances these perspectives and contest the quite simplified and unilateral representation of the development.
The data does indeed verify, across all three years, that young Danes increasingly find their information via social media; that traditional media play an increasingly limited role; and that young Danes happen to see news stories when they are doing something else online; that is, they do not very often, compared to older generations, intentionally look for serious news and information.
However, the data also tells that relatively many young Danes trust traditional media more than online / social media even if they seldom sit down with the newspaper, or in front of the TV or the radio. They are even more sceptical towards the trustworthiness of news that they find online than older generations with less use of online media are. But, what is really interesting is, that young Danes relatively often look for additional information when they – quite often – encounter stories online that they doubt. In short, the majority of young Danes often think critically about the online content they find.
As a researcher with a focus on informed citizenship and the role of media in democratic processes, I find that especially two things are worrying about young peoples’ dive into the information maelstrom: they do indeed lack the inputs to establish coherent, perhaps even ideological, understanding of social, political and democratic processes. And, they lack a confidence in being able to connect the dots and exploit the present critical thinking that many apply to use of online content.
The argument in the paper draws on three Gallup surveys about insights into Danish Information practices in December 2015 (1593); December 2016 (1233) and December 2017 (1550). The surveys were conducted as a resource for the strategic research network DECIDIS.