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TALKING AMONG THEMSELVES

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The character of youth civic engagement on the internet has emerged as a productive topic of study in communication research. Concurrently, a number of recent studies of online forums have found that technological design features can powerfully influence both the form and content of civic discussion. The present study integrates these previously unacquainted literatures, contributing to each by comparing the user content of two online youth engagement forums: one of which tightly manages communication between participants and the other of which grants them far more expressive latitude. The results indicate that technical design matters: significantly more topics of a traditionally civic character were raised in the former than in the latter. Further, the expressive forum elicited twice the number of total posts than its counterpart, although the highly regulated forum attracted significantly more unique users. Notably, the populations posting in the two spaces were almost completely mutually exclusive, with the vast majority of users posting exclusively in one or the other. The implications of these findings are discussed in the context of youth civic forums and youth civic engagement more generally.
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Keywords: civic engagement; computer-mediated communication; politics; systems design; young people

Document Type: Research Article

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

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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