Facebook Users’ Political Participation

Vitak, J., Zube, P., Smock, A., Carr, C. T., Ellison, N., & Lampe, C (2011). It’s complicated: Facebook users’ political participation in the 2008 election. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(3), 107-114.

Social media outlets, such as Facebook and YouTube, played an important role in the 2008 presidential election. These sites allowed candidates to communicate with potential voters and potential voters to communicate with each other. Vitak and colleagues (2011) cited information from the Pew Internet and American Life Project indicating that 65% of social network site users aged 18-24 engaged in online political activities during the 2008 campaign. These authors investigated whether political activity on such sites led to real world political participation, as opposed to superficial online activism or “slacktivism.” Of the 683 student participants in this study, 96% reported having a Facebook account. Students were administered a questionnaire that included measures of overall and political Facebook usage, as well as political knowledge, efficacy, interest, and participation. Results showed that students’ overall level of political participation was fairly low, consisting of more passive activities such as watching debates rather than more demanding activities, such as volunteering. Level of Facebook use was negatively correlated with political participation, yet political activity on Facebook was positively correlated with political participation. The authors suggested that politically active Facebook users may be using social network sites primarily for the purpose of supplementing their ongoing political activity. Rather than label the students’ activities as “slacktivism,” the authors suggested that online political activity may be a first step in developing the skills and knowledge needed for political engagement.

Making Connections

Internet behavior
Social support
Young adults

Media Supplement

This NPR podcast Americans continue to rely on cable TV news for election coverage, rather than new media tools like Twitter and Facebook. [5 min 30 sec]

In this video episode of The Open Mind student and political journalist Alexander Heffner discusses Young American Voters and the Coming Presidential Election. [28 min 18 sec]