Thursday, July 26, 2012

Status: Apathetic - Twice as many 18-year-olds are signed up to Facebook as are registered to vote in the real world

Status: Apathetic – Twice as many 18-year-olds are signed up to Facebook as are registered to vote in the real world

by Rebecca Evans,
December 29th 2011

More than one million signed up to social networking site compared with 520,000 on the electoral role

Facebook users are swift to log on to the social network to vent their spleen and put the world to rights when an issue captures their imagination.

But for a significant proportion of younger users at least, the enthusiasm for having their say does not translate into voting to change things in the real world.

Officials expressed concern yesterday after figures revealed that Facebook has 1.08million 18-year-old users in Britain, compared with just over half a million who have reached voting age in the past year and registered on the electoral roll.

There are more than a million 18-year-olds in the UK signed up to Facebook

In Britain, more than 30million people – almost half the population – log on to Facebook each month. This is more than the 29.7million who voted in the May 2010 general election.

Samantha Mills, head of campaigns at the Electoral Commission, said: ‘Our own research, published earlier this month, showed that only 56 per cent of 19- to 24-year-olds and 55 per cent of 17- and 18-year-olds are on the electoral register.

‘The low voter registration rate among young people is very concerning.

‘Each year the Electoral Commission runs public awareness campaigns to encourage people to register.

‘Young people are an important group to target, which is why social media has become an increasingly important platform for these campaigns.’ The latest study, carried out by the credit information company Experian, was of electoral rolls from the 460 local authorities across the UK. It found that out of the 47.4million registered voters, 520,000 were newly registered.

Jonathan Westley, the company’s managing director, said the findings highlighted the need for social media to be used to engage teenagers.

He added: ‘It’s intriguing to compare how many people registered to vote when they turned 18 in 2011 to the number of 18-year-olds using Facebook.

‘It simply underlines why it’s important that organisations adopt new technologies to better serve this section of the population. It is also vital to educate this demographic on the importance of registering to vote and explore how social media engagement could be part of this.’

Registering on the electoral roll means you are eligible to vote in both local and national elections, as well as in referendums.

It is also used by banks and other lenders as a credit check, so can increase chances of obtaining loans, credit cards or other finance.

A recent report by the Electoral Commission also found that the number of Britons who have not registered to vote has almost trebled in the past decade.

A study in April found 8.5million were not registered, compared with 3.9million in 2000.

Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 while he was a student at Harvard University.

Such has been his company’s success, with a global membership of 800million users, that the 27-year-old has a fortune of £11billion, making him one of the youngest billionaires in the world.

A Facebook spokesman would not comment on the study.

Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that workers at an Oxfordshire council have been logging on to Facebook more than their own website.

The Vale of White Horse District Council’s 164 workers logged on to the social-networking site 450,555 times in three months, compared with 313,068 visits to the council’s site, according to figures obtained under a Freedom of Information request.

Emma Boon, campaign director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘It looks like staff have spent a lot of time surfing websites that have little or nothing to do with their jobs.

‘Social networking only needs to be part of one or two employees’ roles in the council. This suggests some are spending more than just break times on the site.’

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