Is the Internet leveling the playing field when it comes to citizen participation across income levels? Not just yet, according to a recent Pew Internet & American Life study entitled The Internet and Civic Engagement, which says that “the Internet is not changing the fundamental socio-economic character of civic engagement in America.”
“When it comes to online activities such as contributing money, contacting a government official or signing an online petition, the wealthy and well-educated continue to lead the way.”
But the gap may be narrowing.
A number of factors – including age and access to the Internet – are expected to play a role in encouraging an increased level of participation in political discussions and activities across all socio-economic levels.
The increasing use of blogs and social networking sites – like Facebook and Twitter, for example – by a younger and more economically diverse demographic is expected to impact citizen participation.
According to the Pew study, 37 percent of Internet users in the 18-29 year old category use blogs or social networking sites as a venue for political or civic involvement. The percentage declines as age increases.
And this factor alone could change the landscape going forward.
“In contrast to traditional acts of political participation-whether undertaken online or offline-forms of engagement that use blogs or online social network sites are not characterized by such a strong association with socio-economic stratification,” the report states.
One of the Internet’s greatest advantages is that it offers increased access – not only to information, but also to other people. In theory, today’s youth has the potential to be more politically savvy -and involved – than in any other time in history.
As of April 2009, 63 percent of American adults had access to the Internet at home – a figure 15 percent higher than the year before, according to a Pew study on the adoption of home broadband connections. And as a larger segment of the population gains access to the Internet – not only at home, but also in libraries, schools and other public venues – the window of opportunity for civic involvement will open that much wider.