Civic laboratories: youth political expression in anonymous, ephemeral, geo-bounded social media

While political expression is theoretically important for young citizens, research finds that young people approach expression on dominant social media (e.g., Facebook) with trepidation and uncertainty. What might a social media that facilitates youth political expression look like? We address this question by examining young people’s experiences with the mobile social media Yik Yak, whose affordances (i.e., anonymity, geo-boundedness, ephemerality) offer a theoretically beneficial infrastructure for political expression. Using in-depth interviews conducted during the 2016 US election, we find that Yik Yak’s affordances allowed users to assess the opinions of their peers, experiment with political expression and articulate their political voices. Participants also raised concerns over whether political talk on social media like Yik Yak could result in substantive dialogue or meaningful change. Based on our findings, we propose the concept of civic laboratories, which are social media that maximize opportunities for experimentation with political expression, while minimizing social risk.