The Internet: Politics as usual?

(cross posted from Corinna di Gennaro’s blog)

With the primaries in full swing and the upcoming elections, one cannot but ponder what role new technologies such as the Internet are playing in facilitating citizens’ engagement in the political process. Is the Internet actually making a difference?

The Internet has certainly lowered the barriers of participation – if one wants to get involved, there are numerous arguably low cost ways to do so. Social networking sites such as Facebook allow users to join groups or become supporters of one’s favorite politician. Political satire DIY videos abound on YouTube, from the downright entertaining to the more engaged ones. Finally, there is a series of innovative websites, for example Scoop08, VoteGopher and Generation Engage, which are entirely made up of user generated content allowing (especially young) people to voice their opinions and engage in political discussion.

But does online political participation matter if it does not eventually translate into some tangible offline outcome such as for example turnout at the ballots or door to door canvassing? To put it in other words, is the online participatory culture promoted by the Internet meaningful in itself – if it does not translate into a (offline) participatory democracy? Similarly, does offline political participation which was originated online matter if it is only short term and episodic (for example taking part in a protest organized on Facebook)? Is one off participation as valuable as long term commitment to a cause? After all, some of the most successful online ventures such as and can ascribe a big part of their accomplishments to the fact that they are rooted in local communities and offline social networks.

It is being argued that the Internet is really making a difference for young people’s political engagement. There is some evidence that the current generation of 18-24 year olds is more civically engaged than previous generations of young people. While it can be argued that Web 2.0 tools, from social networking sites to YouTube are the domain of the young, can we safely assume that it is the Internet which is playing a major role in engaging young people in the political process? How do we isolate the impact of the Internet from other exogenous factors such as the war in Iraq, the years of the Bush administration, or the 9/11 attacks as political scientist Robert Putnam has recently claimed?

While the Dean campaign was greeted as the first Internet election, online fundraising was the main feature of the novelty. Much has changed since then, thanks to the new opportunities for involvement provided by Web 2.0 tools. Unfortunately, studying these new trends is often fraught with methodological difficulties: how can we quantify the aggregate effect of the thousands of videos uploaded on YouTube; or of the scattered conversations and strategic planning which takes place online on politicians websites, users’ blogs and Facebooks groups? Perhaps the most important question to be asked is whether and how the Internet is contributing to the empowerment of individuals – as political efficacy and political trust are necessary conditions for becoming involved in the political process.

Where the Wild Things Are: 8 Links for Parents

The Internet can feel like a jungle to the uninitiated—full of weird sights and sounds, a little terrifying, and very hard to navigate. We gave a talk to parents at the incredible BB&N high school last week, and to commemorate the event, I put together a list of 8 essential links for parents who want to understand their childrens’ world a little better. So: click around! Explore! It’s what all the cool kids are doing these days.

Learning 2.0: 23 Things

This list of 23 services and activities to try out on the Internet provides
a guided, exploratory tour of a small slice of what the Internet has to
offer. The best way for parents to better guide their children through the
ins and outs of the Internet is for the parents to understand it better themselves. Completing these fun digital adventures is a huge step toward understanding the capabilities and dangers of the Internet.

Net Family News
Make sense of the latest developments in children’s privacy and activities online. Net Family News publishes a blog and a weekly email newsletter that address these issues and explain their relevance and implications for

Connect Safely
Great forums where parents can ask questions about children’s privacy and activities online. Also associated with Net Family News. Includes a prominent focus on cyberbullying.

Parent.Thesis Blog
Two tech-savvy parents explore the ways that technology intersects with
their lives and the lives of their children. A great way to learn about
cutting-edge technologies.

Totally Wired
Although Anastasia Goodstein no longer updates this blog, it remains an invaluable resource for parents seeking to understand the online worlds of
their children. Note especially the right-hand list of links; categories
like “Where Teens Blog” provide an unusually comprehensive collection of
sites that parents should be aware of. This list of links serves as an
essential jumping-off point for any parent hoping to delve into
understanding the online realities their children face.

PBS Frontline: Growing Up Online: Parenting in the Internet Age

Frontline’s recent documentary, “Growing Up Online,” provides an essential (if somewhat alarmist) view into the digital world that children encounter on a daily basis. The documentary’s site also serves as a thorough compendium of resources and information on the topic. This particular page offers expert perspectives on how to conceptualize the task of parenting when so much of young people’s activity occurs “invisibly” online.

Why Youth Heart Myspace
This classic talk by Berkman fellow danah boyd provides an essential primer on the appeals of social networking. Though this talk was later expanded into an academic paper, the notes to the original presentation provide an engaging introduction to the matter.

A YouTube Primer for Parents

Short video, from 2006 but still relevant, telling parents what they need to know about YouTube.