There's already a lot of buzz around Parliament about the upcoming election. On 7 May , over three million young people will have the chance to vote in Britain for the first time.
Here's the bad: only one-third of young people say that they will vote, compared to two-thirds of the general population and 75% of those over 65.
And the ugly: when asked if politicians understand their interests and challenges, young people gave a resounding no. That means that two million young people might opt out of voting because they don't believe that there's a way to make their voices heard.
Now for the good: social media provides an effective way for politicians to reach younger constituents, hear their concerns, and encourage them to be more involved in the political process.
This is a big deal in terms of making representative government more... well... representative. As the MP of Carshalton and Wallington, I've always held weekly surgeries to meet with constituents one-on-one, but young people very rarely come. Back in 2011, I decided to conduct an experiment: an online surgery on Facebook to answer questions in real-time.
It was a success. I answered over 50 questions during a one-hour period, mostly from individuals under 30, about everything from the environment and foreign conflicts to local housing and restoring our night bus. As a result, I pushed hard to get the 154 running; as of this year, it has been partially reintroduced.
I now hold online surgeries regularly.
Using the polling function on Facebook, I also get insights into my constituents' opinions. Through e-groups, I get in-depth, written feedback on local and national issues that they care about. These online initiatives, in addition to daily updates and the resulting conversations, help me decide on and prioritise what I push forward in Parliament on behalf of my constituents.
Social media has changed the way we all communicate, and is especially important for representatives seeking to meet young people wherever they are. With 31 million UK residents on Facebook and just over 15 million on Twitter, this generation coming-of-age grew up in a highly connected world of multi-platform media. Mentioning, retweeting, favouriting, sharing, and commenting have shifted the flow of political information from top-down to open, accessible communication. This easy access, if engaged correctly, can enable us to empower young people to not only support the change they wish to see, but to join the movement as active constituents.
Britain's young people are the leaders of today and tomorrow. As I discovered in hosting online surgeries, young people are engaged - politicians just have to evolve to accommodate our all of our constituents' preferences. If, through online engagement, we're able to raise the number of young people voting to 60% - the proportion of eligible Brits who historically turn out on Election Day - that translates to an additional 650,000 young people.
That's 650,000 more voices taking a stance on today's most important issues - and those are the voices that will shape our future.
Tom Brake is MP for Carshalton and Wallington and supporter of Parliament Week
Parliament Week is a UK-wide programme of events and activities that inspire, engage and connect people with parliamentary democracy. For more information about events and initiatives near you please visit: parliamentweek.org
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