Online to Offline Civic Engagement: The Effects of Social Media on Offline Civic Engagement

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Virginia Tech


The effects of traditional internet (e.g. email and web browsing) and social media (e.g. Facebook, Google +, Twitter etc.) remain a valuable area of study among scholars seeking to understand civic engagement (e.g. volunteering, attending political rallies, protesting about local issues etc.). Building off the work of previous researchers who sought to identify connections between traditional internet, social media and civic engagement, this study adds to that body of knowledge by examining whether social media has independent effects on offline civic engagement beyond those of traditional internet. In addition to this, because age is an important factor in the use of traditional internet or social media, this study also investigated whether social media use is reducing the traditional age effect in civic engagement. Lastly, the study also examined the relationship among several dimensions of social capital including group membership, discussion networks, trust and norms of reciprocity which have been linked to offline civic engagement by some scholars, although, some scholars have questioned how some of these social capital measures (e.g. trust, norms of reciprocity) affect online civic engagement.

I tested several hypotheses about these relationships using data collected from a 2012 survey of residents in the geographic area of Blacksburg and Montgomery County, VA. The statistical analyses entailed building a series of structural equation models and regression models to predict the civic engagement of these residents. The results provide evidence that: 1) social media has additional effects on offline civic engagement beyond those of traditional internet. 2) That social media was a strong mediator of the relationship between group membership and offline civic engagement; and 3) discussion networks and offline civic engagement. The study did not find any relationship between trust, social media and offline civic engagement. Nonetheless, compared to all other forms of engagement, the study was able to demonstrate that social media may represent a breakthrough in our understanding of how developments in information and technology are shaping and influencing young adults' civic engagement.



social media, traditional internet, social capital, civic engagement