Tobias Olsson
Department of Media and Communication Studies,
Lund University, Sweden

Alternative vs. Mainstream: A Comparative Study of Young Activists' Use of
Traditional and New Media

By now, about ten years after the internet's big breakthrough, we have seen a lot of thinking about the new medium's potential implications for politics. For instance, we have seen several ideas about its ability to contribute to a more dialogic and inclusive public sphere. There have also been plenty of suggestions about its potential contribution in changing political processes as we know them, by making them more transparent. Also, the internet's ability to become a tool for various groups of political activists has been considered.

Within these reflections of the new medium's political potential, the notion of the internet as an alternative medium has been particularly present. The new medium's alternative qualities have for instance been considered with respect to the rather cheap and manageable resources for political communication it offers. On the user side of the new medium, much attention has been paid to the fact that the internet's global and interactive form offers the users access to alternative information, ideas and perspectives that usually do not appear in mainstream media.

By offering an empirical example, this paper aims at contributing to the discussion on the internet as an alternative medium. It pays specific attention to the use and perception of the internet among young activists in alternative political movement, such as feministic movements, the alter-globalisation movement and the animal rights movement.

The paper takes on a comparative approach. To start with, it compares the internet to traditional news media: How is the internet and traditional news media, respectively, used and perceived by the young activists in alternative political organisations? In order to grasp the distinctively alternative, the text also compares the young alternative activists with a group of mainstream activists from the political party's youth organisations: What are the similarities and the distinctive differences between the two groups in terms of perception and use of news media in general and the internet in particular?

Our studies do show that there are quite a lot of similarities between the two groups of activists. For instance, in both groups we are dealing with active and critical media users, and in both groups the internet is used for internal coordination. This paper, however, mainly focuses the differences between the two groups, such as the fact that the young activists within alternative political movements seem to have shaped the internet into a resource for various networking practises, and that they certainly differ from mainstream activists when it comes to the use of the internet as a resource in identity work.

The empirical data are brought from two studies within the Swedish research project "Young citizens, ICTs and learning" which is funded by the Swedish Knowledge Foundation's research programme Learn-IT during three years (2003- 2006). The project focuses on young citizens (16-19 years of age) and their use of media – in general – and the internet in particular. The first study focused on some twenty young peo¬ple who are members of four different youth organisations affiliated with the Swedish political parties (autumn and winter 2003-2004). The second study focused young people within alternative, political movements such as the alter-globalisation movement and the women's movement (autumn and winter 2004-2005).

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