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Invisible Networked Publics and Hidden Contention: Youth Activism and Social Media Tactics under Repression

Sun, August 12, 8:30 to 10:10am, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Floor: Level 100, 113B


Young people are leveraging digital media to engage with civic and political issues outside the confines of traditional public institutions and discourses. The Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter illustrate how youth leverage social media to exercise voice and participate in politics (Cohen & Kahne, 2012; Herrera & Sakr, 2014; Howard & Hussain, 2013; Milkman, 2017). While social media present new opportunities for youth who were previously excluded from formal channels of political participation, increasingly, these platforms also subject youth to surveillance, censorship, and other forms of repression.
In this study, I examine digitally active, young civic actors in Cambodia, an authoritarian regime with a demographic youth bulge and rapidly increasing uptake of social media. Specifically, I focus on social media tactics employed by youth to navigate contentious politics and express dissent under state control and surveillance. The findings offer insights into how young activists seek to exert influence on public issues using social media in highly contentious, high-risk political climates. This study finds that common tactics employed by youth are in the realm of "infrapolitics" (Scott, 1990), and are heavily characterized by indirect and hidden expression. The findings illuminate the dynamics of digitally mediated civic action and state power situated in broader social, cultural contexts.