Week Five: Glaisyer and Pasek

You may want to sit down for this one, folks:

Contrary to popular belief, social networking sites and emerging communications technology are actually not as valuable tools of empowerment as we think!

The articles written by Tom Glaisyer and Pasek, et. Al. provide valuable evidence that disproves the mainstream association between the advent of online communications technologies and civil engagement.

Granted, Glaiyser does show a bit of a case for the opposition—arguing that the potential for digital activism is much greater in open and democratic societies. He claims that individuals in such societies have the ability to participate in policy formation, execution, and the monitoring of government practice. Additionally, the low-cost and accessibility of these tools facilitates the mobilization of large groups of citizens.

But in judging the overall effectiveness of social networking sites and online media technology, we must assess the situations in which this is not the case.

Glaisyer suggests that digital activism in repressive and authoritarian regimes has been less effective than originally expected. Instead, digital technologies have provided alternative opportunities for government control—such as additional surveillance, the ability to delay communications, the mapping of networks, and an increased ease of tracking and punishing dissidents.

Likewise, Pasek, et. Al. claims that just because an individual is connected to the Internet does not mean that they will be civically active. While most young people are already online, there has been little evidence to show that social capital has correspondingly skyrocketed.

Not to mention, the type of use affects the overall strength of online communications tools. It seems to be the case that individuals who use the Internet for informational purposes tend to have higher levels of civic engagement than those who use it for recreational purposes.

Overall, the study by Pasel, et. Al. suggests that the use of social networking sites relates inconsistently to measures of social capital. Although these users did show greater levels of civic engagement, they were less trusting than non-users. This upholds the theory that if citizens are less connected to one another and less trusting then democracy suffers.

In my opinion, I think that essentially what it comes down to is the type of person that is using the online media and how they choose to engage with it—rather than the tools themselves serving as some great form of empowerment.

As Pasek, et. Al. states: we “cannot discriminate between whether social networking websites are encouraging civic involvement or whether civically involved youth are simply more likely to join social networking websites (18).”

With that perspective, it is difficult to look at online communications media as some sort of game-changing invention. Of course, these tools are used to spread political messages and mobilize large groups of individuals; but it all depends on who is using them and for what purposes. Many people will only utilize the Internet for entertainment’s sake—and it is that demographic of individuals that alters the political potential of online media.

On that note, how would you characterize the majority of Internet use by your friends at the University of Michigan? Would it be informational purposes, social networking, or civic engagement?

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About caitlinesmith

Student at the University of Michigan.
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1 Response to Week Five: Glaisyer and Pasek

  1. karensaukas says:

    At first when thinking about your question I instantly thought of my friends here at U of M using the Internet for social media purposes above all else. That is where I consistently see news from my friends and I often hear conversations discussing events or pictures on Facebook. When thinking a little more though I realized that although friends of mine may talk about Facebook and social networking often we are all here because we decided to attend U of M, a university that requires all of its students to heavily rely on the Internet for information. Just think about the readings we had to do for class this week. A large amount of class readings are on ctools, which is a site online that every student here must learn to master. We also have to use the Internet in countless other ways for classes, such as research or communicating with professors. This realization caused me to see that although college students are often thought of as social networking users, they are also informational users as well.
    The bulk of your post was the opposite view of mine. I saw the readings this week saying that the Internet encourages social capital among people. I thought the confirmation of Pasek et. al’s second hypothesis, that social networking users were more civically engaged, a sign that the Internet is being used by some to increase social capital. The points you brought up though really made me think and see things from your perspective as well. I guess I was seeing the potential of the Internet to be a tool where increasing social capital is possible. I really like when you mentioned that it depends on the type of user. Although many users don’t use the Internet to gain political knowledge, become civically engaged, or improve upon interpersonal trust there are those who do use it in that way. Therefore, both of our views are correct in that it depends on the user to bring the Internet to it’s fullest potential as a tool for increasing social capital in the future.

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