Black Youth and Digital Social Capital

Black Youth and Digital Social Capital

Mark Anthony Neal looks at how technology and social media are empowering and creating young activists

Mark Anthony Neal

by Mark Anthony Neal, July 05, 2012

Black Youth and Digital Social Capital

online spaces or cultures may shape their expectations about how communication and interaction should happen in other spheres of life, including the political domain.” 

More likely to be embedded in new media than their racial peer groups, Black youth have developed what the authors call “digital social capital.” According to Cohen and Kahne, “those using new media to pursue interests and hobbies from sports to technology to gaming may be gaining knowledge, skills and networks, that is, digital social capital, which makes engaging in participatory politics more likely.”  This is no small fact; those with such digital social capital are five times more likely to engage in participatory politics, and even more surprisingly, four times more likely to engage in traditional political acts. 

In some ways, the role that Black youth are playing in dictating styles of protest and political resistance for their peers, mirrors the same role that Black youth played more than two generations ago with the Civil Rights Movement; the anti-Vietnam protests of the late 1960s are practically unimaginable without the emergence of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and their militant acts of non-violent protest.

However comfortable Black youth are with new media and digital technology, many of the respondents expressed concern over their abilities to be able to discern legitimate information from misinformation—“Twitter Death," when a celebrity or some fictitious character is declared dead on the social network, is one great example of how quickly rumors spread via social media. 

Anybody embedded on Twitter, for example, are well aware that its audience, particularly young people, are hungry for information and knowledge.  This fact is the biggest reminder that Black scholars, journalists, and activist cannot simply cede social media to corporate media and advertisers, but we need to see ourselves as partners in the  “new and expanded opportunities for political engagement facilitated through new media.” 

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