Social media for civic participation

Social media sites provide internet-based tools that individuals and groups can use to receive news, communicate or share information, collaborate on ideas, mobilize networks, and make collective decisions.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased civic participation

  • Increased political participation

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that social media use increases civic participation (Rice 2019*, Gil de Zuniga 2012*, Ferrucci 2019*, CTSA-2011) and offline participation in political activities (Rice 2019*, Kwak 2018*, Gil de Zuniga 2012*, Conroy 2012*, Tai 2019*, Adegbola 2019, Holmes 2018*, Bode 2018*, Velasquez 2018*, Xenos 2014*), including voting (Bond 2012, Adegbola 2019). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Using social media as a news source may increase civic engagement (e.g., volunteering, attending a neighborhood meeting) (Gil de Zuniga 2012*) and both online and offline political participation (Adegbola 2019, Gil de Zuniga 2014*, Gil de Zuniga 2012*); however, social media use for social interaction does not appear to directly influence political engagement (Gil de Zuniga 2014*). College students who participate in more expressive political activities and frequently share political content on social media are more civically and politically active offline than otherwise similar students who do not participate in these activities (Rice 2019*). Personalized social media messages encouraging congressional voting can increase individual political expression and voter turnout; online interaction between individuals who have a face-to-face relationship appears to lead to greater increases in civic participation than interactions between individuals without strong offline relationships (Bond 2012).

People using social media as a news source are more likely to report feeling connected to their community and to help resolve community issues (Gil de Zuniga 2012*). However, another study indicates that more frequent online political engagement is associated with fewer strong interpersonal relationships with family or friends (Ferrucci 2019*).

For individuals who are 36 years old or older and use social networking sites that feature their preferred political views, positive perceptions of using social media for political engagement are associated with increased social media use for political expression, which in turn increases offline political participation (Kwak 2018*). Another study of online diversity suggests that increased online cross-cutting political discussion may increase the sharing of political information on social media, and in turn, increase offline political participation (Lane 2017*).

Connecting with others via social media can encourage young people to become engaged citizens (Culver 2012). Increased Facebook interactions between students from different high schools appears to be associated with increased civic participation (Kornbluh 2019*). The association between social media use and political engagement may vary by experience of digital civic education (i.e., digital media literacy combined with civic or political discussion topics) (Xenos 2014*). The positive association between online political engagement and offline political participation appears to be stronger for individuals who are less educated and low income compared to those who are more educated and higher income (Tai 2019*).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

In 2015, 61% of millennials (aged 18-33) reported receiving news about politics and the government from Facebook (Pew-Mitchell 2015). Social media tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, are available across the nation through the internet.

Implementation Resources

MRSC-Citizen participation - Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington (MRSC). Communication and citizen participation techniques.

Citations - Evidence

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Rice 2019* - Rice LL, Moffett KW. Snapchat and civic engagement among college students. Journal of Information Technology and Politics. 2019;16(2):87-104.

Gil de Zuniga 2012* - Gil de Zúñiga H, Jung N, Valenzuela S. Social media use for news and individuals' social capital, civic engagement and political participation. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 2012;17(3):319-336.

Ferrucci 2019* - Ferrucci P, Hopp T, Vargo CJ. Civic engagement, social capital, and ideological extremity: Exploring online political engagement and political expression on Facebook. New Media and Society. 2019.

CTSA-2011 - Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA). Principles of community engagement. Bethesda: National Institutes of Health (NIH); 2011.

Kwak 2018* - Kwak N, Lane DS, Weeks BE, et al. Perceptions of social media for politics: Testing the slactivism hypothesis. Human Communication Research. 2018;44(2):197-221.

Conroy 2012* - Conroy M, Feezell JT, Guerrero M. Facebook and political engagement: A study of online political group membership and offline political engagement. Computers in Human Behavior. 2012;28(5):1535–46.

Tai 2019* - Tai KT, Porumbescu G, Shon J. Can e-participation stimulate offline citizen participation: An empirical test with practical implications. Public Management Review. 2019;22(2):278-296.

Adegbola 2019 - Adegbola O, Gearhart S. Examining the relationship between media use and political engagement: A comparative study among the United States, Kenya, and Nigeria. International Journal of Communication. 2019;13:1231-1251.

Holmes 2018* - Holmes JW, McNeal RS. Social media use and political mobilization. International Journal of Public Administration in the Digital Age. 2018;5(4):50-60.

Bode 2018* - Bode L, Edgerly S, Wells C, et al. Participation in contentious politics: Rethinking the roles of news, social media, and conversation amid divisiveness. Journal of Information Technology and Politics.

Velasquez 2018* - Velasquez A, Quenette AM. Facilitating social media and offline political engagement during electoral cycles: Using social cognitive theory to explain political action among Hispanics and Latinos. Mass Communication and Society. 2018;21(6):763-784.

Xenos 2014* - Xenos M, Vromen A, Loader BD. The great equalizer? Patterns of social media use and youth political engagement in three advanced democracies. Information Communication and Society. 2014;17(2):151-167.

Bond 2012 - Bond RM, Fariss CJ, Jones JJ, et al. A 61-million-person experiment in social influence and political mobilization. Nature. 2012;489(7415):295-298.

Gil de Zuniga 2014* - Gil de Zúñiga H, Molyneux L, Zheng P. Social media, political expression, and political participation: Panel analysis of lagged and concurrent relationships. Journal of Communication. 2014;64(4):612-634.

Lane 2017* - Lane DS, Kim DH, Lee SS, Weeks BE, Kwak N. From online disagreement to offline action: How diverse motivations for using social media can increase political information sharing and catalyze offline political participation. Social Media and Society. 2017;3(3).

Culver 2012 - Culver SH, Jacobson T. Media literacy and its use as a method to encourage civic engagement. Comunicar: Scientific Journal of Media Education. 2012;20(39):73–80.

Kornbluh 2019* - Kornbluh ME. Building bridges: Exploring the communication trends and perceived sociopolitical benefits of adolescents engaging in online social justice efforts. Youth and Society. 2019;51(8):1104-1126.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Pew-Mitchell 2015 - Mitchell A, Gottfried J, Matsa KE. Millennials and political news: Social media - the local TV for the next generation? Washington, DC: Pew Research Center; 2015.

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