Like any other technological innovation, the internet was welcomed heartily by those who believed that it could change everything concerning democratic governance. Amongst the expected helpful impacts is the ability of the internet to allow common citizens to short-circuit political leaders and communicate directly with each other and community elites, to foster debates, improve trust, form community, and to simplify political partaking. The purpose of this paper is to discuss how the internet has affected citizenship and community participation in political activities in the United States of America.
Citizenship can be defined as status or position of an individual documented under the law as being a legitimate member of a country (Dalton, p77). A person can be a US citizen through birth or by naturalization. Community is defined as a group of persons living in the same district or nation, or having similar characteristics. In this paper, I will consider the American citizens as one community.
For different reasons, the internet is projected to increase community participation. The communicative abilities of the internet permit some kind of political activities to be done faster, massive amounts of information accessible in the internet would have the impact of reducing the expenses of obtaining political knowledge and motivating political curiosity. The capabilities of the internet enable mobilization to have political activity. Nevertheless, it is widely accepted that in accordance to the number of politically relevant physiognomies, political activists differ from the community at large (Dalton, p80). Also, more involvement does not essentially indicate that citizens are economically or socially different. For one reason, access to the internet is far from global amongst adult Americans, a phenomenon commonly termed as “”digital division”” and the outlines of the digital division indicate in different ways the shape of political public participation. However, accessing the internet does not mean that the user is participating in political activities. Consequently, it becomes important to study the degree to which online political and community acts reflect, ameliorate, or overstate the traditional trends in offline political action.
There are different ways in which internet can improve political involvement. For one reason, different types of political actions such as forming groups of like-minded individuals, making contributions, registering as voters, and communicating with political elites are made easier online. Since the action can be done at any time of the day or night from any location with a laptop and an internet connection, the expenses of participating are lowered. The internet also makes it suitable for the formation political groups in different social platforms. By reducing the cost of communication between a large groups of like-minded people, the internet lowers the expense of gathering large groups on the ground. The internet lowers approximately to zero the cost of trying to meet political supporters from different geographical locations (Hargittai, Eszter, and Aaron Shaw, p116).
Those with internet access obtain more information concerning political activities and this becomes important in raising political agendas. Since every previous political activity is available in the internet, the governments at all levels together with the public officers such as the members of the Senate and House, mayors, governors, members of community offices, political organizations and parties, publish source of political information like journals, newspapers, magazines, and also broadcast them through video and audio clips in platforms such as the YouTube. Additionally, the use of internet has more potentially politicizing capabilities such as online discussions, usually about political topics is able to attract more like-minded people from distant places without the need of coming together physically in a round table thus saving the time and cost of travelling (Dalton, p86).
The other means through which the internet can improve political actions is by its ability to interconnect large groups of people who are located at different geographical regions at minimum costs. Party members and political parties not only use the internet as a means of publicizing political information but also use its abilities to interact with supporters and adherents and to register them to start a political action either online or offline (Hargittai, Eszter, and Aaron Shaw, p120).
This paper studies the state of citizenship involvement in the United States of America. One objective of the paper is to compare various offline political actions such as making payments and signing appeals with the online equivalents. The other goal is to examine the likelihood of political and community involvement through social network sites and blogs. This paper compares offline and online political activities in different ways; first, how and to what degree are the online and digital tools being applied by the citizens of America to talk with the community members or to participate in political activities? Whether the online ways of political action are affecting citizen’s political life? Are the internet tools for community debates for example social network sites and blogs suitable for all community members engaged in political activities? Are the new methods making any change in the large community discussions? In order to have an effective conclusion of my study, I visited the national telephone survey that involved 2,251 American citizens (where 1,655 were internet users). The sample was only collected on landline telephones and no young internet users (below 18 years) were involved in the study.
Approximately 66 percent of adult Americans have engaged in some kind of political activities in the previous years. Twenty percent of the population were involved in four or more political activities. This political activities included working with community members to solve disputes, participating in political parties to attempt to effect public policy, or undertaking the roles of a political candidate or party (Aaron et al., 2009).
The study indicated that people with higher levels of education and incomes are more likely involved in political activities. The higher the level of education or income, the more the number of political activities a citizen is involved. For example participating in a political or community group, volunteering for or working for a political candidate or party, attending political assemblies, communicating with public officers or contributing for political organizations/parties.
When considering personal political activities, it has been discovered that a certain community is particularly active. For instance, Hispanics below thirty years of age are particularly probably been engaged in organized demonstration in the past year, suburbanites are probably certain to have showed up in political meetings in town, school, or community affairs, and those above fifty years have probably communicated with a public official. However, the variations based on age, race, gender, type of community are not much considerable like the difference based on level of education or income.
More than 33 percent of Americans have been engaged in community group or political organization in the previous year by at most one of the following ways, participating in a group to effect public policy, working with community members to solve a dispute, or volunteering for or working for a political candidate or party. More than 80 percent of those engaged in such activities have interconnected with their fellow group members and use different means of communication. Roughly fifty percent said that they communicated with their fellow members online (through text messages, emails, or group website) and also offline via face to face or journals and newspapers. Approximately ninety percent of the political or community members go online and read their email (Aaron et al., 2009). This has made email become as common as phone communication and face to face meeting. Approximately fifty percent of American citizens have voiced their sentiments in a public debate on topics that are relevant to them, and social network sites and blogs give an extra chance of political involvement. Furthermore, 49 percent of citizens have communicated with the government officials or agent, signed a petition, calling in a TV show or radio, or writing an opinion to the editor.
Modern internet users have different ways of participating in the community. With the increase of social network sites, blogosphere and other online sites, interested parties can engage in online group of civic and political activities by posting their comments on social matters online. In fact, 15 percent of adult internet users have contributed to a political debate online. Approximately twelve percent have commented on blogs or website posts on social or political matters, four percent have posted political opinions on social networks, two percent have posted political videos, and three percent have posted political pictures online.
More than ten percent of internet users have made their political contributions online. Adherents of the Democratic Party are leading in making online payments. Thirty nine percent of the Democrats donated their contributions online while only eighteen percent of the Republicans made online payments. Most of the political donations were made offline. Approximately 20 percent of American citizens have contributed funds to either a political candidate or party. However, study reveals that online payments for charitable works are less than political donations. Online payments for charitable works summed up to twelve percent compared to 30% of political donations (Aaron et al., 2009).
As the above numbers reveal, most individuals participate in community or political parties using different channels for example, someone might sign a petition for one matter and an online petition for a different issue, and various type of communication are most likely to occur through the internet. Letters to the editor are mostly send through email or through US Postal Services. However, it is evident that in the near future, editorial letter will only be send via email or other internet means that is faster and cost effective. We can agree that the internet is changing the socio-economic life of the community through ways by which the citizens are engaging political or community issues. However, those who are on the lower level of socio-economic class are less likely to access internet as well as engaging in online political/community welfares.
Dalton, Russell J. “”Citizenship norms and the expansion of political participation.”” Political studies 56.1 (2008): 76-98.
Hargittai, Eszter, and Aaron Shaw. “”Digitally savvy citizenship: The role of internet skills and engagement in young adults’ political participation around the 2008 presidential election.”” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 57.2 (2013): 115-134.
Smith, Aaron, et al. “”The current state of civic engagement in America.”” Pew Research Center (2009).