It's been just over a year since the referendum where 52% of the UK voted to leave the European Union and many are still left anxious, pessimistic but most of all uninformed about the direction the country is heading.
I was recently invited to a private roundtable in Westminster that brought together young people from the UK to find out what they would like to see from the Brexit negotiations process. The private roundtable was organised by My Life My Say (MLMS) - the organisation providing a platform for young people to engage with politics - and The European Parliament UK Office.
It seemed many at the roundtable were concerned (and rightly so) with how Brexit was going to affect certain sectors such as healthcare, the environment and housing. Whilst the discussion was insightful it was one that needs to be extended far beyond the table and that's what I kept coming back to in my own thoughts. How are we going to ensure that the majority of, if not all, young people are engaged throughout the Brexit negotiations?
Not exclusively young people, but particularly young people are spending the majority of their time, irrespective of whether they are with a particular group of people or in a particular location, online. I'm interested in knowing what the Government is doing to engage young people with the Brexit negotiations specifically through digital channels such as social media. The government should be harnessing the digital enthusiasm of our demographic to work collaboratively with social media giants like Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter to disseminate information that informs young people on the negotiation process itself, key outcomes, and any updates.
The outcomes are boundless. We already know that young people voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. Yet young people were not put off the democratic process by last year's result and turned up in their hundreds of thousands to register to vote in the general election last month. Due to the ever-increasing digital nature of politics, it's likely that if this was successful, there will be a rise in MPs and Ministers making better use of their own social media to answer questions posed to them directly.
Despite it not being the outcome they overwhelmingly voted for, Brexit and the negotiation process poses a real opportunity for young people to create a level of engagement not seen before amongst their demographic in the UK's political history. Young people should be inquisitive and asking the kinds of questions that hold those in power accountable. I include myself in that challenge and did just that.
I reached out to several government departments including the Department for Education, the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), The Cabinet Office and The Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU). I asked what plan the Government has in place to engage young people on the negotiation process itself, key outcomes, and updates specifically through digital means like social media.
A DExEU Spokesperson said:
"It is vital that the interests of children and young people are heard and part of our plan is to make sure a wide range of perspectives are factored into our approach to exit.
"The department has already been speaking to child and youth advocacy groups and will continue to do so in the coming weeks and months."
The Spokesperson provided further information by stating:
"DExEU has a social media platform on Twitter which the department uses to keep its followers informed about the work of our ministerial team. The DExEU Twitter feed has more than 31,000 followers and the majority of our followers are under the age of 24."
I'm not sure this statement from DExEU properly addresses the digital aspect of engaging young people on the negotiations. It is clear though that this is something that's going to become more important for young people in shaping the UK's political landscape as well as the Government's approach to exiting the European Union.
It can feel sometimes being on social media that politics is encroaching on playful, emotive and mindless interactions with friends. However with Brexit, there's too much at stake. We live in this age of misinformation and fake news circulating on social media and yet weirdly social media seems like the main place where you have to justify politicizing politics. We cannot waver in our determination to get across the message that politics turns in to legislation that could enable or prevent decisions that effect not just young people, but generations born after who have had no say whatsoever in the circumstances they'll be expected to make the best from.
MLMS are feeding outcomes from the roundtable back to the European Parliament.