Whilst the Scottish referendum did great favours for the reputation of 16- and 17-year-olds, 'Milifandom' is once again challenging the view that young people are uninformed and disengaged when it comes to politics, undeserving of the vote. Many may see 'Milifandom as simply a collection of teenage girls swooning over a political leader. However, it is clear that hashtags and other forms of social media have become an incredibly popular outlet for young people to engage in politics, rather than one for satire and apathy as is suggested in the majority of the media coverage on 'Milifandom'.
17-year-old Abby, who is credited with the creation of the hashtag, cited her reason for the creation of the craze as to challenge the distorted view of Ed Miliband, created by the Murdoch industries. In an interview with the HuffPost UK earlier this week, Abby explained that she had become infuriated after watching a passionate Miliband on the live Leaders Debates, realising how prejudiced the media had been against Miliband. She also remarked "People should make their choice based on policies not sandwiches". Whilst Abby's actions in itself displays how an AS level student can be so engaged as to deploy a highly intelligent political tactic to challenge a billion pound industry, the tweets that also followed showed a high level of engagement in those not yet eligible to vote.
Many of us are quick to dismiss the power of social media, especially when it comes to its political influence over young people. It's true that it is unusual to see someone under the age of 18 reading a political broadsheet, yet social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter are a part of everyday life for the majority of 16- and 17-year-olds. Unlike traditional sources of political information, which often require extensive prior knowledge and are not as accessible to young people, outlets such as Twitter are able to condense news and current affairs into easy and readable 120 character statements. Thus young people are constantly absorbing, engaging and writing about politics, and we are constantly ignoring them.
Many argue that, if offered the vote, 16- and 17-year-olds wouldn't use it, citing the already abysmally low turnout of 18-24 year olds. However, if 16- and 17-year-olds are made eligible to vote, there would be immense pressure placed upon both governments and political parties to further engage young people, appropriately including them in democracy where they are currently left out. When I left school at 16 I feel I had no political education whatsoever, there was no mention of first-past-the-post or ideological differences between the political parties in my citizenship lessons (that is, if they were even on at all). Lowering the voting age would thus stimulate further political education and political engagement, leading to a generation of even further engaged and enthusiastic voters.
We often forget how much the votes of those over 18 affect the younger generation directly and in a short period of time. In this parliament tuition fees have been trebled, EMA has been cut drastically and young people are struggling to buy houses and find jobs. In addition many policies that have been announced by all parties directly affect young people. We regularly forget to acknowledge that young people use our public services such as the NHS, police force and education services equally to that of the rest of the electorate. So why are they not allowed to partake in decisions about its direction until later in life? A person who is 17 at this election will not be able to vote in a general election till they are 22, an age at which a person has made a large majority of their life decisions, yet have been officially excluded from democracy their whole lives. To me that is an injustice to the young people of our society.
Evidently 'Milifandom' has displayed how young people are engaged with politics, yet are largely left out of the political system. Much of traditional political information is inaccessible to young people, as it assumes prior knowledge and often makes reference to elections and events that happened before 16-year-olds were even born. In addition political education is currently letting young people down. We need stop ignoring and dismissing young people when they attempt to engage in politics, and instead praise and encourage untraditional political outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. 16- and 17-year-olds deserve to be able to vote, to be able to determine the direction of their public services and policies that affect them, and 'Milifandom' has once again displayed their maturity and high levels of engagement.