Boulianne, Shelley. 2009. “Does Internet Use Affect Engagement? A Meta-Analysis of Research.” Political Communication 26 (2): 193-211. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10584600902854363
Purpose of the Research
In the previous Research Article Analysis, I looked at Schlozman, Verba, and Brady (2010) and their take on the role of the Internet in political engagement. They overwhelmingly felt that the digital divide is too great for the Internet to have any real effect on political engagement. In the literature, scholars disagree on the impacts of the Internet in political engagement and behavior. In this study, Boulianne tries to analyze whether there is evidence of Internet use influencing civic engagement.
Boulianne analyzes 38 of the most cited articles and books about US Internet use with respect to civic and political engagement. Through a meta-analysis, Boulianne analyzes which studies show positive effects, negative effects, and non-directional effects.
Boulianne finds that there is strong evidence to suggest that overall the effect of Internet use on political and civic engagement are positive. What this study does not find is how substantial this claim can be. There seems to be a likelihood of finding positive claims moving forward as trends for news gathering moves to the Internet. Future research should evaluate this phenomena as a two-way causal process, due to the advent of online news.
I think this article is correct about a few things. I think that as we progress the Internet will have more of a central role for news gathering, so we are naturally going to find that the Internet will have more of an effect on the way news and information is being gathered. Government agencies are moving to the Internet, and traditional barriers to entry for politics are being blurred. Literacy and education are no longer a hindrance to finding political information (Prior 2007).
However, I don’t see this article ending this debate about the effect of the Internet on engagement. There are still concerns of a digital divide and echo-chamber that occurs on the Internet. This is mostly due to the nature of the people who are using the Internet. Those who have the most access will be most influential, and that may be a very important aspect that this literature has not uncovered. I think there is more to be said, and many of these studies that were in Boulianne’s data set that I’ve read, were pre-Web 2.0. I think a lot of these studies, if repeated may yield different results since the structure of the Internet has changed. Part of this debate seems more settled, while this article may have brought out some of the complications that maybe are ignored in some of these studies.
-Prior, Markus. 2007. Post-Broadcast Democracy: How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.