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This study analyses 36 online civic engagement websites for youth to understand the civic skills and communication opportunities offered to youth in different online environments. The research design draws on recent theoretical work on citizen identity and the design features of online communities to develop a picture of online engagement projects in two dimensions: the model of citizenship encouraged and the style of communication available to users. Results suggest that the citizenship styles inscribed in sites are correlated with the styles of communication the sites offer. In particular, sites that present more conventional civic skills, such as appealing to government for solutions to problems, tend to heavily control how users use the sites; in contrast, those that present citizenship as a broader, expressive engagement with issues and culture are less inclined to define the terms of users' interactions. This article discusses the implications of the findings for understanding how online civic projects succeed or fail to connect with young people, the possibility of creating sites that both appeal to young people and offer important civic skills, and directions for future study and practice.
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Keywords: Web 2.0; citizenship; e-Learning; politics; social networking; young people

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Communication, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

Publication date: April 1, 2010

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