Young people impact another historic election cycle

By Ryan Mercado & Abrahim Karzai

As campaigns winded down and the nation prepared for the 2022 midterm elections, PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs (SRL) hosted We the Young People: Moments of Truth. The half-hour special focused on students and their families from around the country to discuss what issues were most important to them. 

Ahead of election day, thousands tuned-in to watch teen hosts Tiffany Rodriguez of Philadelphia and Berto Suarez of Rockville, Maryland walk through issues that matter to young people, voting explainers, and how to deconstruct misinformation.

“I want older people to know…”

A diverse group of students opened the show with their thoughts on what issues first time voters care about. Among them were mental health and accessibility to healthcare, as well as climate change and a desire for new leaders that look more like them to come to power. Reflecting on inflation and the rising cost of college and housing, one student said, “I want older people to know that it’s hard to be able to afford the things that you were able to afford in the past.”

What exactly are the U.S. midterms?

While many young people identified political issues that matter to them, many of them find the midterm elections to be confusing, as they tend not to be as widely covered as presidential elections. Student reporter Effie Gross from California explains in a humor-filled video she sent in.

Misinformation leads to conspiracy theories

Like the midterms, many other topics—like vaccines—have been susceptible to being fraught with misinformation. To underline these challenges, the special showcased the first episode from “Moments of Truth,” our digital series on misinformation.

In this episode, single mom Karen Robertson from Iuka, Mississippi talks to student reporter Makenna Meade about her journey to disprove conspiracy theories she once believed. Now Robertson is writing a children’s book about critical thinking and learning to help young children like her daughter.

“I was trying to make the world make sense and it was easier to believe that it was bad and something was out to get you,” Robertson said as she recounted how she shaped her views. 

Why does Arkansas have such a low voter turnout?

Next door to Mississippi, Gwen Ifill Legacy Fellow and student reporter Insherah Qazi wanted to know why her home state of Arkansas has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country. Through her many conversations, she found that it was a mix of misinformation, rural voting, and history of segregation. 

How does one spot election misinformation?

But Arkansans are not the only ones subjected to misleading information, the next segment featured Media Wise Teen Fact Checkers who explained how to spot election misinformation using campaign ads from the Michigan Governor’s race as an example.

Why should young people volunteer to be poll workers?

As the elections neared, poll worker shortages at some polling stations in Philadelphia began making headlines. Student reporters Gabby and Essie talked to a family of poll workers to learn more. “The more young people you see working there the more you’re going to think this impacts me,” said Matthew Bonanni of Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. 

How can young people navigate the U.S. caustic political divisions?

PBS NewsHour congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins sat down with student reporter Sonal Prakash to discuss the changes in political discourse in the U.S, as well as how young people can navigate a political landscape that is becoming more divisive. 

Desjardins discussed her own personal account of covering the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and how the experience shaped her perspective on where she thinks the country is headed. 

Ethnic communities are not immune to misinformation

In another episode of Moments of Truth,Steph Doan and Nick Nguyen from Viet Fact Check met to discuss how misinformation has impacted the Vietnamese American community, as well as a deep and powerful discussion on how they can empower their community through truth and civic engagement. Doan and Nguyen both believe that maintaining a civic presence is vital to ensuring their community’s voices are heard. 

Two U.S. Congressional candidates represent Gen Z for the first time

For the first time, a U.S. midterm election saw two Gen Z candidates running for U.S. Congress. ReporterRachel Janfanza sat down with co-host Berto Suarez to discuss the significance of this political first, as well as the ways in which young people have impacted political discourse in the United States. They also discussed why many young people still choose not to engage with the political process. 

Is this legit? Teen fact checker reveals falsehood about Dr. Oz campaign

The Pennsylvania Senate race between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz was one of the most covered races in the 2022 midterms. This also meant that it was subject to viral moments in the age of social media—and one such viral sensation of someone holding a Dr. Oz campaign sign sideways to spell “No” during a photo-op with the Republican nominee turned out to be photoshopped. Media Wise Teen Fact-Checker Vion Gashi shared tips on how to properly vet a photo online.

How to talk to others across political differences

Co-host Berto Suarez provided some insightful tips on how to stay level headed and calm when speaking with someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum. 

Watch the entirety of We the Young People: Moments of Truth here.