Creating citizens

A new report by the Pew centre suggests online political engagement can lead to offline action

Retweeting a comment by an official or "liking" a post by a political organisation might not represent the pinnacle of civic engagement in politics, but it is an indicator of greater-than-average involvement, according to a new report by the Pew Research Centre. Pew found that although Malcolm Gladwell was right in arguing that the revolution would not be tweeted, more Americans used social media for political purposes in 2012 than in 2008, the last US presidential election. The report offers a glimpse of how Americans have adapted these services for political objectives, as by creating memes like #bindersfullofwomen after Mitt Romney's blunder during a presidential debate last year, to take just one example.

According to the report, 39 per cent of Americans took part in some kind of political activity on a social networking site during the 2012 campaign more than the share of Americans who used social media for any purpose at all in 2008. What's more interesting is that 63 per cent of the people who are politically active online replicate that behaviour offline by, for instance, attending a rally. They are also more likely to contact their representative.

There is little about these findings that indicates that social media has disrupted political behaviour and outcomes in a way that other media haven't. The Pew researchers conclude that social media has not radically altered the economic profile of those involved in politics in America wealthy, better-educated people are still more likely to be active on social networking sites. Yet, as smartphones become more popular for the first time ever, global smartphone shipments overtook sales of feature phones in the first quarter of 2013 increased access to political representatives and information about politics bring with it the possibility of deeper civic engagement, creating more political citizens.

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