Civic political engagement and social change in the new digital age

Koc-Michalska, K. and Vedel, T. in new media & society: “Over recent decades, research on the Internet and political participation has substantially developed, from speculative studies on possible impacts in social and economic life to detailed analyses of organizational usage. In the field of politics, focus is increasingly shifting from understanding organizational, or supply side, to the usage and dimension of citizen engagement. Citizens have various ways to engage in civic political life, with many new forms of engagement facilitated by digital technologies. The question is to what extent these forms of engagement have any impact on society and the way society is governed. More particularly, what forms of engagement have impact, what type of impact is evidenced, is that impact positive or negative, in what ways, and for whom? Phrasing the question in this way recognizes that citizen engagement can have a range of differing impacts, in multifaceted forms, and these impacts may not always be positive for broader society.

Civic political engagement is at the center of political science research, especially concentrating on voting behavior and what are described as traditional forms of political participation: demonstrating, contacting elected representatives, or joining political organizations. While these remain core to democratic society, debates are emerging surrounding new forms of participation offered by new digital wave era technologies. In particular, should we recognize actions facilitated by the participatory opportunities offered by new communication platforms (such as social networks and microblogs) as forms of political participation? The US election campaigns of 2008 and 2012, and Barack Obama’s engagement with interactive communication and empowerment of citizens through his campaigning strategy, has led to new thinking around how political communication can be performed. Obama’s campaign happened against a backdrop of activism among those Karpf (2012) describes as “Internet-mediated issue generalists”: citizens who populate forums, contribute to blogs, and initiate petitions. Data suggest that the mechanisms for facilitating political participation are evolving alongside technological innovations….(More)”