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Young Immigrants Turn to Social Media to Engage in Politics and Elections | Opinion

By Sara Wilf, Elena Maker Castro and Taina Quiles

The political power of immigrants is on the rise in the United States.

The number of immigrants eligible to vote has almost doubled, from about 12 million in 2000 to more than 23 million in 2020.

Immigrant voters tend to be older than U.S.-born voters, but immigrants between the ages of 18 and 37 still made up 20% of all immigrant voters in 2020.

We are a team of scholars and students from all disciplines and universities who study the civic development of young immigrants – and we think it is important to recognize that young immigrants also play a key role in encouraging older immigrants to vote, primarily by communicating with them through social media.

Our research shows that online sites and apps like Twitter are essential for young immigrants — both those born outside the United States and those who are second-generation immigrants — as means to engage in politics . Many young immigrants use social media to follow news from their local community, as well as from their country of origin. They also use it to organize protests and encourage others to vote.

This is true even when these young people are disqualified from voting because of their immigration status.

Young immigrants have been found to use social media to encourage others in their community to vote (Sara Wilf, Elena Maker Castro and Tania Quiles).

A key problem

Immigration is a central issue for many voters in the upcoming midterm elections. August 1, 2022 Pew Research Poll found that nearly 50% of registered voters said immigration was “very important” to them in the November 2022 election.

Some Republican politicians, such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and others who are also up for re-election, have focused on immigration in their campaigns pointing to registration numbers migrants crossing the US border. Republican politicians have also moved thousands migrants to liberal places like Washington, DC, New York and Massachusetts in recent months.

of President Joe Biden plan to reorganize the country’s immigration system and providing a pathway for approximately 11 million undocumented residents to obtain citizenship, meanwhile, remains blocked in Congress.

In recent years, however, young immigrants – people between the ages of 18 and 23 who were born in other countries or whose parents were – have helped lead national movements to provide a conditional path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants, which resulted in the passage of 2021 from the DREAM act. This policy give millions undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children the right to stay in the country.

The DREAmer movement counted a lot on social media to spread information and encourage people to take action. Based on the previous successes of immigrant youth in mobilizing their communities for political change, we believe their online political engagement could have implications for the 2022 midterm elections.

Mobilize others

Our Research study in 2020 explored how young immigrants aged 18 to 23 used social media to engage in politics. We took 2,300 screenshots of political tweets from January to November 2020, from a sample of 32 public Twitter feeds of immigrant youth that we found through national immigrant youth networks, such as united we dream.

Based on the content of their Twitter profiles and posts, we were convinced that they were all genuine young immigrants residing in the United States. We then contacted them all via Twitter about the study, and the majority confirmed their age and immigration status. We then analyzed the screenshots to identify trends in online youth political engagement.

We also conducted interviews with 11 sample individuals, which confirmed that we recruited young people whose Twitter profiles accurately represented their true identity. Several indicated either in their Twitter profiles and tweets or in interviews that they were ineligible to vote due to their documentation status.

We found that young immigrants use Twitter to educate their followers about political issues and processes in the United States and abroad – and to share online and in-person opportunities to protest or vote.

These young people seemed to intentionally target their ethnic and regional communities in their social media posting.

For example, some young people in our June 2022 study called on their followers to translate racial justice educational resources into different languages ​​to share with their families.

Others provided voter registration guides in multiple languages, alerted subscribers to political candidates who shared an ethnic or regional identity, or encouraged particular ethnic communities – such as South Asians – to vote.

In interviews, young people also described bringing political conversations from their phones to the dinner table and discussing the news they had read online with their parents.

Some participants also shared that they had posted on social media with the explicit intention of changing the political views of their family members.

One person we interviewed in 2020 who had ancestry in the Philippines and Belize noted that he “realized the importance of educating people and having these difficult conversations,” especially with his family and friends. friends.

Valeria, a senior student from Puerto Rico, also shared how Facebook was “the family’s social media platform” where she raised awareness about political issues.

“The way I look at it is at least I’m planting a seed, right? I plant an idea, at least I help others, at least I hear what’s going on,” Valeria, who also asked to use a pseudonym, said in a 2020 interview with our team that was featured in the 2022 study.

A screenshot from a social media page shows a user named Amit Jani encouraging Asian or Pacific Islander voters to attend an online appeal for Joe Biden's election
A screenshot from the authors’ study shows a Tweet from a young immigrant in 2020 (Sara Wilf, Elena Maker Castro and Tania Quiles).

From online engagement to offline engagement

Online political engagement of immigrant youth mirrors broader trends in the United States

About 46% of American teenagers today use the Internet “almost constantly”. compared to only 24% who said the same in 2014.

Along with this increase in internet use, more young people are using social media to educate others on social and political topics, hold politicians accountable, and provide opportunities for their followers to take action through climate and political movements like Future Fridays and Black Lives Matter.

Online political engagement has important consequences for offline political behavior.

In fact, almost a quarter of American adults say they have have changed their minds on a political issue because of social media. Online political engagement has also been shown to inspire more young people to participate in the demonstrations and encourage people vote.

Our conclusions align with previous research showing that young immigrants educate politically and mobilize their families and community members.

A survey of people allowed to stay in the United States due to the DREAM Act ahead of the 2020 election found that nearly 95 percent of them planned to encourage family and friends to vote.

The online political engagement of young immigrants has several potential implications for the 2022 midterm elections.

First, as our 2022 study discovered, young immigrants are using social media to influence their parents’ views on political issues like racial justice and teach them how to register to vote.

Due to the significant impact immigrant voters may have on the 2022 midterm elections, especially in swing statesthe online political engagement of young immigrants could play a role in shaping election results.

Sara Wilf is a PhD student in social protection at the University of California/Los Angeles. Elena Maker Castro is a PhD candidate at the University of California/Los Angeles. Taina Quiles is a PhD candidate at the University of Virginia. Ph.D. students Bethany Murray, J. Abigail Saavedra, and Lamont Bryant, along with three undergraduate students, Kedar Garzón Gupta, Jaime Garcia, and Aditi Rudra, and UCLA professor Laura Wray-Lake are all members of the team that led research for the study highlighted in this article. They wrote this piece for The conversationwhere he first appeared.
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