The glow of the Obama campaign and its ability to mobilize people has certainly dimmed in the past few months. When it comes to whether the internet is stimulating an increase in social action and making it more accessible to all, however, a new report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project on The Internet and Civic Engagement concludes:
Contrary to the hopes of some advocates, the internet is not changing the socioeconomic character of civic engagement in America. Just as in offline civic life, the well to-do and well-educated are more likely than those less well off to participate in online political activities such as emailing a government official, signing an online petition or making a political contribution (p.3).
Though the survey does find a smaller gap between younger and older adults with respect to measures of civic engagement, the overall findings still suggest that within any age group socio-economic status (SES) remains the highest correlated variable. They also find that about 1 in 5 adult internet users have posted content about a political or social issue or in some other way used a social network site [pdf] for other forms of civic engagement. In what may signal changes to come in online civic engagement, these latter internet users are less likely to be characterized by higher SES levels. These online adults are also more likely than people not engaging in political and social actions to be active offline as well. And over half (56%) of these active online adults use digital tools such as email and group websites to communicate with each other.
And despite this sobering news, a new set of free tools for grassroots movements is being launched. It's still early on...