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The political use of the internet: Some insights from two surveys of Italian students

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Interest in the Internet's impact on political participation has grown over the last five years. The main claim of most social scientists is to consider the Internet as a new resource for political engagement. However, this claim has not always been backed up by empirical analysis. The aim of this article is to provide empirical evidence on a subject that previous surveys on the Internet have generally ignored: the influence of individual political characteristics on Internet use. The authors compare data from two distinct surveys, carried out in two different periods but which contain some common batteries of questions referring to political participation and Internet use for political purposes. One survey was carried out in 2001 and focused on students at the University of Florence. The second was carried out in 2002 and focused on the participants in the European Social Forum in Florence. The empirical results and interpretations offered are based on a sample of 397 students, extracted from the two databases. The focus of the research is on exploring whether and how the political use of the Internet is shaped by the political characteristics of users, in this case students. The findings of the two studies suggest that, firstly, the more students are engaged in different social and political organizations, the more they use the Internet to achieve political purposes; and, secondly, that different styles of Internet use (to retrieve alternative information, to discuss and to perform political actions) are associated with the political characteristics of users. In particular, the characteristics of offline participation are reproduced online: the Internet is appropriated and shaped by political practices of users.
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Keywords: Political use of the Internet; political orientation; political participation; students; survey; young people

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Dipartimento di Scienza della Politica e Sociologia, Università di Firenze, Florence, Italy 2: Department of Sociology and Political Science, European University Institute, San Domenico di Fiesole, Florence, Italy

Publication date: February 1, 2007

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