Social Science Computer Review

Vol.  28, No. 1


Symposium Issue on Information Technology, Social Capital, and Civic Engagement\


Issue Engagement on Congressional Candidate Websites, 2002-2006 / James N. Druckman , Cari Lynn Hennessy, Martin J. Kifer, & Michael Parkin

When candidates engage in robust policy debate, it gives citizens clear choices on issues that matter.  Previous studies of issue engagement have primarily used indicators of campaign strategy that are mediated by reporters (e.g. newspaper articles) or indicators that may exclude candidates in less competitive races (e.g. television advertisements).  We study issue engagement with data from a unique source, congressional candidate websites, that are unmediated and representative of both House and Senate campaigns.  We find that the saliency of issues in public opinion is a primary determinant of candidate engagement.  And, despite the unique capacity of the internet to allow candidates to explain their positions on a large number of issues, candidates continue to behave strategically, selecting a few issues on which to engage their adversaries. 


MyFaceTube politics: Social networking websites and political engagement of young adults  / Jody C Baumgartner & Jonathan Morris

This paper examines the political uses of social networking websites by young adults in context of the early stages of the 2008 presidential primary season. Employing a survey of over 3,500 18-24 year olds contacted immediately prior to the Iowa caucuses, we illustrate that while social networking websites are recognized by youth as a possible source of news and that many receive some of their news from these sites, the types of news gathered probably do little to inform them or add to democratic discourse. Moreover, the study shows that in spite of the promise social networking sites hold for increasing political interest and participation among a chronically disengaged cohort, users are no more inclined to participate in politics than are users of other media.


IT use and declining social capital? More cold water from the General Social Survey (GSS) and the American Time-Use Survey (ATUS)  / John P. Robinson &   Steven Martin

Early studies of the impact of IT on society suggested that it had a negative impact on social life, as well as mass media use. This article reviews the results from several subsequent studies both in the US and other countries that show little such societal change in terms of users’ daily behavior. It then proceeds to examine further negative evidence from two more recent large national surveys with high response rates: the 2006 General Social Survey (GSS) (with more than 2500 respondents) and the 2003-05 American Time-Use Survey (ATUS) (with more than 40,000 respondents0 aged 18 and older. The GSS survey collected time-estimate data on particular social and media (mainly free-time) activities, while the ATUS study collected complete diary activity for a single day.

         In general, Internet use was not consistently correlated with significantly lower levels of socializing or other social activities like church attendance, nor with lower time with mass communications media in the GSS . For reading and some other behaviors, the Internet was associated with increased  media.  Respondents who spend more  time on the Internet did report fewer social visits with relatives, but more visits with friends, compared to those who spent no time on the Internet. The main difference between users and nonusers in the ATUS was with time at paid work, that was only partially explained by higher Internet use by teens and on days off  from work.    For reading and some other behaviors, the Internet was associated with increased  use in these surveys


The digital divide, political participation and place/ Dari E. Sylvester and Adam McGlynn

This paper focuses on the persistence of the digital divide and its impact on political participation, and in particular, on the role that geographic location plays in unequal access.  Our findings, based on survey data from the 2007 Pew Internet and American Life project, indicate that physical location continues to play a key role in levels of access to broadband technology and that increased home internet use is associated with a significantly higher probability of contacting government officials in various ways.   


The revolution will be networked: The influence of social network sites on political attitudes and behaviors / Weiwu Zhang, Thomas J. Johnson, Trent Seltzer, & Shannon L. Bichard

Social networking is a phenomenon of interest to many scholars. While most of the recent research on social networking sites has focused on user characteristics, very few studies have examined their roles in engaging people in the democratic process. This paper relies on a telephone survey of Southwest residents to examine the extent to which reliance on social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube has increased users’ interest in politics and engaged them in civic and political activities at the national and local level.  More specifically, this study looks at the extent to which social networking sites influence political attitudes and citizen democratic participation after controlling for demographic variables. The role of interpersonal political discussion in stimulating citizen participation is also examined. The findings indicate that reliance on social networking sites is significantly related to increased participation in civic activities, but not overall citizen participation. Interpersonal discussion emerged as a motivator for both civic participation and political activity. Implications of the results for democratic governance will be discussed.


Network hopes: Municipalities deploying wireless Internet to increase civic engagement / Andrea H. Tapia & Julio A. Ortiz

In this work we examine four cases of municipalities that have attempted to create municipal-sponsored wireless broadband networks. In each of these cases one of the reasons given for establishing the network was to engage the citizens in their community and government. In each of these cases the efforts have failed in some way. This problem rests on several assumptions. First, these municipalities believe in the importance and need to increase civic engagement, public participation in local government. They also believe that one way to do this is through increasing access to broadband Internet. In this paper we argue against a simplistic, deterministic, utopian view of information and communication technologies. We argue that in the case of local governments, choices made by government officials to solve social problems with technology are often made out of hope, frustration, inadequate funding and inadequate knowledge. These public technology projects are often met with failure and often lead to further distance and mistrust between local governments, public officials and citizens.


A bridge across the Bosphorus: Returned migrants, their Internet and media use and social capital/ Christine L. Ogan & Muzaffer Ozakca

Relatively few studies have focused on migrants who returned to the country of their origin or their parents’ origin. Still fewer have examined the communication patterns of call center workers who live in one country but conduct all of their business in the language and culture of another country. Drawing on work by Portes and Bourdieu, this study treats the use of traditional media and the Internet and its relation to the bridging and bonding behavior of a group of Turks who returned to Istanbul from the Netherlands, and who are now employed by a Dutch call center company. Based on a survey and three focus groups of employee participants, this research finds that more recent and younger returnees primarily bond with family and friends in Holland through use of Dutch media and Internet use, while longer-term returnees connect more with Turkish media. Some bridging was occurring through interpersonal communication with Turks by the younger and more recent arrivals..


The evolution of social capital and civic engagement between non-profit networks and county representatives: A social constructivist approach / Kalu N. Kalu & Brett W. Remkus

The concept of social capital continues to underline contemporary debate regarding the extent to which shared values, ideas, norms and culture shape the kind of political and administrative efficacy that enhances collective action, democracy, and effectiveness in public service delivery. This study attempts to identify the relevance of civic engagement and ICT-induced networking in the development of social capital among local county commissioners and non-profit leaders in the state of Alabama. Results drawn from a series of analyses indicate that county commissioners are more likely to rely on interpersonal networking to getting things done, as opposed to relying on ICT-induced networking which is more characteristic of leaders of non-profit organizations. While the findings also suggest that both county commissioners and non-profit leaders have similar preferences regarding key indicators of social capital, the mechanisms by which it evolves is different in both institutional frameworks. From a policy perspective, the propositions offered here also provide a useful model that could be replicated in other state and local government scenarios.