Over 27 million Britons have a Facebook profile, 40 per cent of internet users upload self-created content to the web, and the same amount post messages to chat sites, blogs and newsgroups. Nearly a quarter of UK mobile phones users now have a Smartphone, with over 18 per cent using their devices to access social media sites or blogs. We know that digital technology is transforming our professional and social lives. But could it also be ushering in a new age of civic and political engagement?
Studies show that people who access social media are more likely s to look at campaigns or engage with politics online. In the UK, during the Prime Ministerial debates in the run up to the 2010 UK election, 36,483 Twitter users were active during the first debate 28,790 were active during the second debate. Almost a quarter of 18 to 24 year olds commented on politics via social networks during the election.
Local, national and international activists are building networks to do everything from getting millions of citizens to sign online petitions on climate change and human rights or to invest in micro-enterprises in Mumbai or Mexico City. Government data is increasingly being made public, improving transparency and allowing software programmers to create extra value from underused data by, for example, mapping out injuries and deaths to cyclists on London’s roads.
The Young Foundation researches and tests the potential of digital technology as a tool for social change. From Neuroresponse, a new model of telecare for people with Multiple Sclerosis, to the School of Everything, a project that connects people who want to learn with potential teachers; The Young Foundation’s work shows how digital technology is leading to increasingly creative responses to social issues.