Reading: Digital habits for getting politically informed
Digital habits for getting politically informed: New political habitus for Homo digitalis
Let's put things into a perspective: According to DataReportal, nearly 60% of the World’s total population, 4.72 billion people use the internet nowadays. This number is growing rapidly with an additional 332 million new users beginning to go online daily which averages at an additional 900,00 new users per day, over the last 12 months (since April 2021).
With respect to usage, this website identifies that the average internet user is online for over 6.5 hours per day, which when tallied together results in more than 1.25 billion years of human time spent online in 2020.
So what do we actually do online?
The following image is a graphical representation (by @LoriLewis and @OfficiallyChadd) of an ‘average internet minute’, drawing on the online activities of billions of users from around the globe:
Let that sink in!
As social beings, we kept our socializing habits when we moved our lives online. Based on different stats, TechJury, experts in testing and reviewing the latest software have identified that social networks are actively used by 3.196 billion people, with the average user spending 2 hours and 33 minutes connecting with other users on the six most used platforms. Some interesting insights into this usage in 2020 are as follows:
- 2 hours and 24 minutes is the average time spent by a typical user on social media platforms daily.
- Connection to social media apps comprises 50.1% of the time an average user spends on their mobile phone.
- Users are connected to Facebook an average of 2 hours and 24 minutes daily, making it the most used social media network.
- Users use Youtube 40 minutes per day on average.
- Connection to Snapchat by the average user is 30 minutes.
- Users spend an average of 28 minutes on Instagram daily.
- Pinterest is scrolled by users for a relatively moderate 14.2 minutes on a daily basis.
- Not only has the internet changed the way we socialize, but it has also impacted the ways we do other things – such as, how we get informed.
According also to DataReportal, 82% of internet users use online media (including social media) to access news content, 65% television, 55% social media, 30% radio, 28% print media. 46% of respondents worldwide use Facebook to discover and access news content, and 27% use Youtube for that. Young people today mostly rely on social media as a news source - 67% of young people aged between 18 to 24 used social media as a source of news, and 63% of those 25 to 34 years old. However, the survey also shows the lack of trust in media content accessed through social media. 88% of internet users actively engaged with or contributed to social media in the past month.
The European Parliament’s latest briefing on digital democracy  states that the concept and definition of a ‘public space’ have radically transformed from that of physical space, such as a town square or park into virtual public spaces on social media and online platforms. Social networks have become a modern-day ‘Agora’ inside which conversation and debate is facilitated. This can be highlighted by the fact that the design elements of such platforms consciously reflect traditional, physical public spaces. Digital platforms enable a vast range of possibilities to discuss and debate political policies, access information regarding events and to rally support for social causes. A prime example of such political mobilisation was those events that transpired in 2019. This year represented a political turning point with mass protests in multiple countries as diverse as Hong Kong, Algeria and Lebanon being orchestrated and convened via smartphone, driven by hashtags and managed on social networks. Such was the disruption created by these actions that public authorities took drastic action to nullify the threat blocking social media and closing down the internet temporarily. In 2018 alone, access to the internet was shut down on 128 documented occasions. Despite such attempts have proved largely ineffective, they confirm the potential political clout offered by online platforms.
This political punch is also highlighted by the conversion of social media into a fundamental tool for political campaigning, embraced by political leaders from around the globe. The 2018 Twiplomacy study documented 187 world leaders utilising 951 different Twitter accounts, 372 which were personal and 579 institutional. These accounts had a combined reach of over 400 million followers at the time. Despite Twitter’s status as the primary political social media, other social platforms are utilised by politicians as well. The heads of government and foreign ministers of 93% of UN member states (179 countries) also utilise Facebook. Instagram too is used by 81% of UN member states, with their accounts being used to post images and share Instagram stories. Of course, this massive increase in political advertising on social media has amplified the inherent risk of misinformation and social polarisation. Evidence of this is provided by Twitter’s recent decision to prohibit political advertising in any form and the subsequent and deep division in public opinion and controversy generated by this decision .
As the online spaces have become equally important as physical spaces as venues for political argument and social interaction, the full digitalisation of democratic processes seems inevitable. How do we move things forward and make the best use of the participatory momentum in our societies? And more importantly, how do we create online civic engagement inclusive for young people?
 Sgueo, G. (2020). Briefing Re-thinking democracy: Digital Democracy. Is the future of civic engagement online? European Union. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2020/646161/EPRS_BRI(2020)646161_EN.pdf