Bulgaria – EYNCRIN

Context

Young people have always been considered a group at the margin of the Bulgarian political life and labour market. They did not manage to escape from this unenviable position even during the 11 consecutive years of economic growth, mainly due to structural constraints, such as insufficient civic education and qualifications, skills, experience and social capital. Predictably, young people have suffered a disproportionately severe blow from the recession, leading to exceptionally high levels of social exclusion, unemployment and inactivity and low rates of political participation and employment. The economic crisis has added powerful cyclical factors to the structural ones. The problem of youth unemployment rates linked to the one of young NEETs makes the situation on the Bulgarian political, social and labour market even more dramatic than it seems at first sight. In fact, the real problem is young people who are not in employment, education or training and those who are long-term unemployed. On the other hand Bulgarian political landscape is characterized by low levels of social trust, lack of civic activity and low levels of youth political participation in the European and Bulgarian political process.

Bulgaria is the country with the lowest twitter usage in the #ask project consortium. Compared with the other low twitter usage country, Greece (3.4 %), Bulgarian twitter users are 5 times less (0.69%).  Social Media usage in Bulgaria is unevenly distributed between the following media: Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

The Statcounter statistics from May 2018 point out the following numbers:

Twitter is the fourth preferred social media by the Bulgarian users with the extremely low percentage of 0.69 %. The following chart, provided by Statcounter points out extreme difference of almost 93 % between facebook and twitter users quantity in clear favor of facebook.

In October 2016 there were less than 50 profiles of political parties and individual decision-makers in Bulgaria. Only a year later the situation changed visibly, Due to the Bulgarian Presidency of EU council, many politicians registered their twitter profiles and by November 2017 their number was already over 300.

Another statistic shows the age distribution of Bulgarian users in social media, proving that the most active users are exactly the young people in the country – those aged between 25 and 34, with a good gender balance. The usage of twitter has a very similar age distribution.

Similar to some neighbouring counties, such as Greece and Romania, the Bulgarian usage of social media is characterized by high usage for updates on social events and news, showing a serious fragmentation of the online news market.

Young people`s political activism in Bulgaria is represented by some main groups on activists. There are so called common citizens Twitter users not having relevant roles in public sphere and showing different grades of activism. Together with the category of the online political activist, whose participation takes mainly online forms, it is possible to highlight the profile of a so called swing activist category, who, taking part to both online and offline forms of activism, seems to keep a balanced profile of participation in both contexts. Despite a differentiated structure of activism forms, we could say that those young people who are active and influential online are generally influential offline too, but is possible to notice a relevant group of users which is influent merely offline, while the opposite does not happen and users influent only online are a slight minority.

Just as in other European countries, profiles of common young users which result to be attractive on Twitter tend to have a high socio-cultural status and to show a liberal/left-wing political orientation. Profiles of low-attractive/highly-receptive users account for a peculiar way of Twitter use: information-oriented and typically adopted by left-wing users, which in tendency show low professional status and which can be characterized by higher education levels or for being still studying.

Challenge

The main challenge for the Bulgarian pilot was to mobilize debate between the low number of Bulgarian youth on twitter and the even lower number of Bulgarian politicians online. Due to the low twitter participation in the country in general, the existing gap between policy makers and (young) people was even more visible online.  The most active young political activists in twitter were those, related to the Green party and the right wing populist movements, while the most active politicians were those, working in institutions, related to the Bulgarian representation in the European Commission, Bulgarian members of European Parliament or Euro Commissioners.

The Bulgarian pilot was challenged to mobilize for twitter participation a wider range of both politically active young people and political decision makers in Bulgaria to discuss together various topics of national and European political importance.

Solution

The Bulgarian pilot used a strategy to turn the disadvantage of the extremely low level of political participation in Twitter into advantage – by becoming visible as one of the very few active political platforms in this social media, writing in Bulgarian language. So far (as of April 2018), @ASK_youth_BG is the only youth-lead Twitter platform of political discussions in the country.

The first step was to research on the most popular and fastest growing profiles on twitter and try to engage them in discussion with the #ask topics that were previously set by the project consortium.

For example, one of the top 5 faster growing profiles is the one of Maria Gabriel, the Bulgarian EU Commisioner of Information European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, which we managed to actively involve in the #ask brokered discussions.

The pilot used the #ask Dashboard to broker political discussions on Twitter, which became most intense in the period November 2017 – April 2018. Discussions were brokered in regular time intervals (for an average of three times a day).

In order to promote the usage of Twitter among young people, seven workshops were organized to train youth workers, young political activists and students in Bulgaria on how to act as Twitter discussion brokers.

The pilot’s efforts in promoting, educating and campaigning within #ask were presented at a number of youth and political events at local and national level.

The Twitter handle of the Bulgarian pilot is @ASK_youth_BG.

Results

The content of most brokered discussions of the Bulgarian pilot is related to the democracy and human rights crisis in the country.