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NET GAINS IN POLITICAL PARTICIPATION: Secondary effects of Internet on community

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Broad and diverse civic participation is essential to a democratic society. Studies of opinion leadership show that politically active citizens report that Internet information and communication helped increase civic involvement by enabling them to keep up more easily with news, interact with fellow citizens or engage in collective action. Yet information about less active citizens remains scant. Does the Internet influence the politically passive majority of citizens to become more involved in political talk or other forms of participation? Do they report that the Internet has been helpful in increasing their involvement in political issues, interactions with other citizens, or with local government? These kinds of impacts that follow the primary effect of gaining access to information are considered secondary effects of the Internet upon political participation (Sproull & Kiesler 1991). This article presents quantitative and qualitative findings from a case study of local political participation from the Blacksburg, Virginia region, within the context of a mature community computer network (the Blacksburg Electronic Village). Not only do politically active, but some politically passive citizens also report increased Internet use to communicate with other citizens and with fellow members of local groups about local or national issues. Further, in addition to politically active citizens, some politically passive citizens report that web logs (blogs) have fostered greater online exchange with other citizens through ad hoc political talk and knowledge sharing. These research findings help us to understand the secondary effects of the Internet on political participation in local communities.

Keywords: community computer networks; political participation; social impact; survey research

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Virginia Tech, Department of Computer Science, Blacksburg, US 2: Communication Department, Western Illinois University, Macomb, US

Publication date: October 1, 2008

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