A forthcoming study by Hua Wang (USC Annenberg School for Communication) and Barry Wellman (University of Toronto) “Social Connectivity in America” has looked at how social networks of friendship have been changing from 2002 and 2007 and how this is related to different levels of Internet use.
The study was prompted by fears that Americans have been becoming increasingly disengaged from public life and disconnected from their peers as exemplified by the work of Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam’s on social capital “Bowling Alone” (2000), who blamed television as the main culprit for the breaking up of the texture of American social and political life.
What Wang and Wellman find – via an analysis of two American national surveys of Internet adoption and use, from the World Internet Project – is that networks of friendship amongst adult Americans aged 25-74 remain abundant and in fact they have been growing between 2002 and 2007. In addition, they found that this trend was similar amongst non-users of the Internet, light-users, moderate users and heavy users – dispelling the initial idea that the more time you spend online the more likely you are to become socially isolated and even develop depression. In fact, the study also found that heavy users of the Internet were particularly socially active, having the highest number of friends both online and offline. Continue reading “has Internet use changed the number of friends you have?”
Vittorio Zambardino writes today in La Repubblica about a recent research study carried out on the Italian blogosphere: what are Italian bloggers writing about? The article presents very interesting graphs, which show the top tags used in 2009 and the topics Italian bloggers write about.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top tag in 2009 was Silvio Berlusconi, which is followed by two current affairs related tags: the economic crisis and the Abruzzo earthquake – which are followed by Facebook in fourth place. In the top 15 most used tags we also find two football teams, Inter Milan and AC Milan, president Obama and the Pope.
Amongst the most discussed topics we find: 1) current affairs 2) soccer 3) the Internet 4) sport 5) politics. These are followed by a rather detailed list of less discussed topics from cinema, to art, to cooking, to music and so on. Finding current affairs at first place and politics at 5th place was indeed rather reassuring, supporting the idea that the Internet is indeed used as a virtual agora for discussion or a virtual civil society, rather than merely a tool for entertainment purposes. It should be noticed, however, that Maria de Filippi (TV presenter of Mediaset reality TV shows) was the top tag in the ‘entertainment category’, where we can find blogger Beppe Grillo at 4th place, and journalists Marco Travaglio and Michele Santoro further down in the list. Finally, finding the Internet as third most discussed topic, was also unsurprising – this is a common finding from research of different country/language blogospheres, where a big proportion of bloggers is made up by IT/media enthusiasts who blog about the medium they are using for communication (see for example our research on different language blogospheres from the Berkman’s Internet and Democracy project).
While the methodology used for this study is not illustrated in this article, it certainly provides a really good snapshot of what the online community and bloggers are talking about: this is very informative of what is going on in Italian society – and should be compared to the news agenda of mainstream media, in order to establish the role of the Internet in public discourse.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project has just released a report on the role of the Internet in the 2008 US election, which analyses trends in how people consume political news & information and the ways they use the internet to engage with politics. Here are some of the key findings:
More than half (55%) of the voting-age population has used the Internet to get involved in the political process during the election year (74% of Internet users).
The survey findings show that the Internet has become a paramount tool for people’s engagement in the political process, not only as a source of information (60% of Internet users have gone online to look for political information in 2008 compared to 22% in 1996), but as a tool for active participation. 18% of Internet users actively engaged online by posting comments on the campaign on online forums such as blogs or social networking sites and 45% watched online videos related to the campaign.
Young voters (18-24 year olds) showed the highest levels of political involvement online. They engaged heavily in the political debate through social networking sites: two-thirds of young people with a social networking profile took part in some form of online political activity. Continue reading “The Internet and the 2008 US election: participation and/or fragmentation?”
Live blogging from the workshop “From Social Network to Social Movement” at Harvard Law School. David Lazer from the Harvard Kennedy School is presenting on the properties of network power. You can also follow on Twitter: #HLSsocnetworks
Definition of network: a network is a set of units (be them people or organizations) and a set of attachments amongst those units. Definition of power: 1) Individual and group access to resources. Where you are in the network influences your access to resources. How does power flow from people who have power to actual formulation of policy? 2) Collective capacity to organize – how do networks enable or inhibit the growth of certain social movements? Continue reading “David Lazer on the properties of network power”
[youtube width=”315″ height=”235″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4omD0j_e0k[/youtube]
La Pecora Bianca presenta Herdict, uno straordinario nuovo sito che aiuta gli utenti a riprendere controllo della Rete. Hai problemi con siti in parte o del tutto inaccessibili? Prova ad usare Herdict su: http://herdict.org.
Herdict.org e’ un progetto del Berkman Center for Internet & Society, all’Universita’ di Harvard, ideato da Jonathan Zittrain e dalla OpenNet Initiative (ONI) che permette agli utenti di Internet di tutto il mondo di raccogliere e condividere segnalazioni di malfunzionamenti e blocchi volontari di diversi siti o pagine Web. Per ulteriori informazioni, leggi: “Herdict, la Mappa Mondiale della Censura“.
I have just come back from a three day workshop on: “The Internet and Democracy, Lessons Learnt and Future Directions of Research”, which we at Berkman’s Internet & Democracy project have been organizing in collaboration with the Oxford Internet Institute and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. The workshop gathered around 25 leading academics working in the field in order to investigate: (1) what are the lessons learnt from existing research? (2) how can we best measure the impact of the Internet and new media on democracy and what are the insights provided by different research methodologies? (3) what are the future directions for the field? The sessions covered an array of topics, with a variety of methodological perspectives.
Day one was opened by a public lecture by Matthew Hindman held at the Oxford Said Business School which explored how online audiences are distributed and how site traffic changes over time. The webcast of the lecture will be available online here.
Continue reading “The Internet and democracy: lessons learnt and future directions of research”
I am currently at Oxford for a three day workshop on: “The Internet and Democracy, Lessons Learnt and Future Directions of Research”, which we at Berkman‘s Internet & Democracy project have been organizing in collaboration with the Oxford Internet Institute and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.
The aim of the workshop is to bring together leading researchers to assess the current state of research on the impact of the Internet on democracy. In particular, the workshop aims to assess: (1) what are the lessons learnt from existing research? (2) How can we best measure the impact of the Internet and new media on democracy and what are the insights provided by different research methodologies? (3) What are the future directions for the field?
Please check this blog and the Berkman’s Internet and Democracy blog in the next few days for blogposts about the workshop sessions. A webcast of the opening lecture which was held yesterday by Matthew Hindman at the Oxford Said Business School will also be made available soon online both on the OII and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society website.
[youtube width=”315″ height=”235″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NggzBHSXdCo[/youtube]
Today, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University has officially launched: http://www.herdict.org — a tool that employs the distributed power of the Internet community to provide insight into what users around the world are experiencing in terms of web accessibility.
Everyone is invited to explore http://www.herdict.org and participate by reporting websites that they cannot access, testing sites that others have reported, or downloading the browser add-on for reporting sites on the fly. Herdict Web aggregates reports in real time, permitting participants to see if inaccessibility is a shared problem, giving them a better sense of potential reasons for why a site is inaccessible. Trends can be viewed over time, by site and by country.
A few days ago in the IHT Evgeny Morozov, a Fellow at the Open Society Institute in New York, has published an interesting op-ed entitled: “Digital renegades, or captives?” where he analyzes the role of the Internet in promoting civic engagement in authoritarian regimes. Evgeny asks: “What if the original premise was wrong and the Internet is not a great force for democratic change but rather the clay that keeps authoritarian regimes together?” Evgeny alerts us to the dangers of seeing the Internet as a magic wand, which will necessarily promote democratic change and warns us about the importance of context (America vs. non-Western European countries) when analyzing the role of the Internet in aiding political change and political participation.
Evgeny goes on to argue (and I quote his words, again): “We have to be aware of the fact that the Internet has given the youth living in controlled societies infinite venues for digital entertainment – without any religious or social censorship – that may not necessarily be enhancing their digital sense of citizenship and civic engagement. Risking the comfort of their bedrooms – with their hard-drives full of digital goodies – for the gloom of a prison cell does not appeal to many of them. The governments are all too happy to promote this new cult of ‘cyber-hedonism’.”
In other words, the Internet is just a tool – we must avoid technologically deterministic arguments which stress the effects of technology by taking it out of context, and by devoiding it of social agency. Evgeny suggests two ideal types (a la Weber): ‘digital renegades’ vs. ‘captives’ which I think are much more than just another trendy name, but they are two categories which may well turn out to be a really useful analytical tool in studying young people’s civic engagement.
[Cross-posted on Internet and Democracy blog and Digital Natives blog]