new paper on social media, democratic engagement and the digital divide

new paper on social media, democratic engagement and the digital divide

I have published a new paper with colleagues from Virginia Tech: Samah Gad, Naren Ramakrishnam, and Andrea Kavanaugh. It was a particular pleasure to work on this paper, as it provided an opportunity to collaborate with some of the folks who I have long admired for their research on the Blacksburg Electronic Village, a community networking project that has a lot of similarities to my Netville, E-Neighbors and i-Neighbors projects. Our paper uses data from to test hypotheses that I original developed in a paper that I published in Internet Use and the Concentration of Disadvantage: Glocalization and the Urban Underclass. In short, the argument is that there is something about social media that enables local social contact and collective action. Moreover, social media can enable social contact in geographic areas that are otherwise, because of digital and more traditional divides, unlikely to experience high levels of civic and civil engagement.

Here is the abstract:

The Internet offers opportunities for informal deliberation, and civic and civil engagement. However, social inequalities have traditionally meant that some communities, where there is a concentration of poverty, are both less likely to exhibit these democratic behaviors and less likely to benefit from any additional boost as a result of technology use. We argue that some new technologies afford opportunities for communication that bridge this divide. Using temporal topic modeling, we compare informal conversational activity that takes place online in communities of high and low poverty. Our analysis is based on data collected through i-Neighbors, a community website that provides neighborhood discussion forums. To test our hypotheses, we designed a novel time series segmentation algorithm that is driven by topic dynamics. We embed an LDA algorithm in a segmentation strategy and develop an approach to compare and contrast the resulting topic models underlying time series segments. We examine the adoption of i-Neighbors by poverty level, and apply our algorithm to six neighborhoods (three economically advantaged and three economically disadvantaged) and evaluate differences in conversations for statistical significance. Our findings suggest that social technologies may afford opportunities for democratic engagement in contexts that are otherwise less likely to support opportunities for deliberation and participatory democracy.

Want to read more, you can find a copy of the paper here:

Gad, Samah, Naren Ramakrishnam, Keith Hampton & Kavanaugh, Andrea (2012). Bridging the Divide in Democratic Engagement: Studying Conversation Patterns in Advantaged and Disadvantaged Communities. 2012 ASE/IEEE International Conference on Social Informatics, Washington D.C.