The Language of Online Leadership: Gender and Youth Engagement on the Internet

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This study examines the JUNIOR SUMMIT online community, which consisted of 3,062 adolescents representing 139 countries, varying SES, and a range of experience with computers. The online forum culminated in the election of 100 delegates. By analyzing the messages posted before results of the election were announced, we explore whether language use predicts who was elected as a leader, as well as gender differences in leadership style. Results indicate that the young online leaders do not adhere to adult leadership styles of contributing many ideas, sticking to task, and using powerful language. On the contrary, while the young people elected as delegates do contribute more, their linguistic style is likely to keep the goals and needs of the group as central—by referring to the group rather than to themselves, and by synthesizing the posts of others rather than solely contributing their own ideas. Furthermore, both boy and girl leaders follow this pattern of interpersonal language use. These results reassure us that young people can be civically engaged and community minded, while indicating that these concepts themselves may change through contact with the next generation.

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