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My slides on the digital divide and online civic engagement (#ica14, attn @kegill)

Following a prompt from @kegill, here my materials from a recent talk at ICA pre-conference on digital divide.

Digital divide in context: A case study in complex policymaking through online civic engagement

Dmitry Epstein, Mary J. Newhart, Cynthia R. Farina, and Cheryl L. Blake
CeRI Cornell eRulemaking Initiative

When examining the digital divide through the lens of online civic engagement, research tends to focus on the agency of citizens as they participate (with varying degrees of effectiveness) in mass political activities such as voting, petitioning, or mobilization for physical demonstrations (Norris, 2001). Earlier scholarship focused mainly on citizens’ material access to technology, whereas contemporary research is more concerned with their (primarily technical) skills (e.g. Min, 2010). Overall, few researchers have looked in depth at the contextual factors of the digital divide, and even then it is done in relation to citizens as primary actors and with context drawn from factors exogenous to the participatory situation itself, such as socioeconomic status, culture, etc. (e.g. van Dijk, 2005). Drawing on our experience with RegRoom – a platform for online civic engagement in complex policymaking – we want to call attention to additional factors, some of which can be viewed as contextual to citizens’ individual experiences or endogenous when examining the system as a whole. First, we will expand the notion of online civic engagement by discussing public participation in complex policymaking processes. Second, we will unpack the “digital dividedness” among policymakers and the limitations imposed on the use of technology by existing administrative processes. Finally, we will address potential implications of technology design for enabling effective civic engagement that goes beyond petition signing and sentiment expression.


Min, S.-J. (2010). From the digital divide to the democratic divide: Internet skills, political interest, and the second-level digital divide in political Internet use. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 7(1), 22–35. doi:10.1080/19331680903109402

Norris, P. (2001). Digital divide: Civic engagement, information poverty, and internet worldwide. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Van Dijk, J. A. G. M. (2005). The deepening divide: Inequality in the information society. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

You can find my slides here, but I am afraid they will not be particularly informative on their own. @kegill, please let me know what you think.

Making social media work for you – notes from a workshop

About a week and a half ago I was part of a panel on social media for Cornell graduate students. The goal of the panel was to respond to inquiries from students about how to use blogging, tweeting and other means of social media to talk about their research and how to use it to their advantage in creating an online professional identity. The panel was organized by Natalie Bazarova (also @nataliebazarova) for the Graduate School Office of Professional Development. There were just three panelists – Natalie, Dan Cosley (also @cosleydr), and me – and I found the panel to be pretty interactive and conversational. Since it was about social media, I thought it could actually be nice to post a brief summary of what was said. Maybe someone will find it useful.

We spoke mostly about our personal experiences and practices we have noticed by observing our colleagues. Dan made a point that using social media shouldn’t be thought of merely in terms of self promotion, but as another way of finding and engaging with your community. Natalie, focusing on opportunities offered by social media, emphasized them as another way to network and do outreach. I talked about the costs of participating and not participating.

It is worthwhile to note that we all agreed that today it may not be practical to distinguish between social media and other kinds of online presence. Everything is linked. So, we all talked more generally about online presence, rather than specifically about social media. The main takeaway points from my point of view were:

Below the fold you will find more detailed accounts of each point. You can also use the links above to navigate to the section that interests you.

The bottom line is that there are benefits and costs associated with maintaining your online presence, particularly through social media. It is important to be thoughtful about what you do and why you do it. There are many tools out there and it takes time and effort to figure out what works for you and how to integrate it in your mundane professional activities.

Hope some people will find this useful.

As always, you are welcome to add your thoughts and suggestions.

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Help with Veronica’s study

Veronica is recruiting participants for a study. For now she is recruiting at Syracuse University only, but soon she will also start recruiting at Cornell as well. So, if you are in one of those institutions and meet her criteria, feel free to drop her a line!

Here is her announcement:

Are you?

  • A Syracuse University Student
  • A native speaker of English
  • At least 18 years old
  • Able to use Google’s search engine

Sign up for the study and influence future search engine design!

  • We will schedule the session at your convenience. Overall anticipated time commitment is 1.5-2 hours.
  • You will be asked to search with Google, your search will be recorded, and then you will be interviewed about your decision-making.
  • You will be paid $15 for your participation and you will enter a raffle to win a $50 Amazon gift card.

To sign up email Veronica: