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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 March, 2003, 12:11 GMT
Switching on the wired generation?

By Robert Andrews
BBC News Online staff

Young, affluent and online. Politicians will have to woo this wired generation if they are to improve turnout for this May's Welsh Assembly elections.

What if AMs were picked from the Big Brother website?

That is according to a study which concludes the internet is the new battleground for the hearts and minds of voters.

Democracy and news media must adopt Big Brother-style guerrilla tactics to appeal to an electorate hooked on e-mail, instant messaging and spoof websites if they are to fight voter apathy.

It may not mean Wales' next first minister is picked with a click from cyberspace. But Rhodri Morgan and his ilk do have a lot to learn from the digital realm, say researchers.

Sources

About 19,000 young people completed a survey which University of Wales, Aberystwyth, lecturer Janet Jones placed on Channel 4's Big Brother 3 website for 24 hours in 2002.

People using computers
Young, bored and apathetic voters use the web more than anyone
She wanted to find out how the wired generation uses different media and whether the web can turn people back on to voting.

At the inaugural 1999 assembly election, just 31% of voters aged between 18 and 25 bothered to vote.

But Ms Jones found the web was the first choice of news source - ahead of television and newspapers - for that same age group.

And there was more food for thought - whilst ethnic minorities were less likely to use the internet, those who do surf twice as frequently.

Battleground

Ms Jones used her findings to urge television bosses - gathered for a Royal Television Society meeting in Cardiff on Wednesday - to go off-air and online.

Man using mobile phone
How to connect to voters?
"The battleground for the hearts and minds of this increasingly wired generation should not necessarily be fought on our televisions, but instead on the interactive playground of the converged television/computer/mobile devices," she said.

"Things are changing very quickly.

"Young people are not using TV news - they are turning to online cartoons and independent sites which don't come in neat little packages; it's like the wild west.

"Lots of people just don't know what the assembly does; it is so dull and boring and it looks like this year's turn-out will be far less."

Turnout

Wales' devolution referendum attracted a turnout of barely 50%, and at the first election just 45.9% of the nation came out to vote.

The web will enable younger people to get deeply involved with politics
Internet activist Adam Rykala
Alienation and lack of information were two reasons cited by a recent report in to the disappointing figures.

Independent websites and weblog journals are now complementing mainstream services in the run-up to the second assembly vote - destined to be the most wired, if Ms Jones has her way.

Activist and Plaid Cymru supporter Adama Rykala, who runs the new-wales.net website and frequents others, admits voters are still switched off.

But, he says, the web can turn them on again and there is no going back.

Passion

"Apathy is the result of the growing blandness of politics, and people need to feel a sense of hwyl and passion about politics again," he says.

"Younger people are politically aware, as recent anti-war demos have shown, but they don't want black suits and white shirts.

"They want to hear about how the world is developing, and what they can do as part of that.

"The web will enable younger people to get deeply involved with politics. That means discussion groups, blogging, streaming media.

"Internet petitions, protest sites and demonstrations are all part and parcel of this. The internet is itself one of the few positives of globalisation that exists."

Manifesto

At 22, former Conservative Llanelli candidate John Jenkins is of apathy age, but embraced web dialogue more than many politicians.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan
Will Rhodri Morgan launch an internet campaign?
But homophobic remarks posted to one forum came back to haunt him and he resigned after party leader Nick Bourne said his position was untenable.

It is a sign of the immediate cause and effect now visible in the digital political landscape, adds Rykala.

"Manifestos, political speeches, are now all available at the click of a button - and it encourages the politicians to ensure they don't get caught out.

"That now leads people to be much more cautious and deliberate in their speech.

"In all fairness, the Welsh Assembly site is leading the way in open information. Younger generations now can type in a few words and make a much more informed judgement then ever before.

"I hope that the next generation will never know a world without access to information on a global scale.

"The world is fast shrinking; I hope that people will realise there is far more that unites us then divides us."

  • BBC News Online has planned extensive election coverage, including a running results service on the web.




  • SEE ALSO:
    BBC unveils politics revamp
    20 Sep 02  |  Politics
    E-voting: A load of old ballots?
    07 Jan 02  |  dot life
    Internet 'best' for green news
    02 Oct 02  |  Science/Nature
    Global protests breed new media
    14 Jul 01  |  Europe
    Voter apathy raises concerns
    17 Dec 02  |  Wales
    Young 'not turned off' by politics
    04 Dec 02  |  Politics


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