It has been established that traditional informational media consumption correlates with political participation: in general, the more someone uses the media for informational purposes, the higher the chances that they will also be politically active (I’ll add a brief note on the causality behind this). Homero Gil De Zúñiga and his two colleagues looked at whether this applies in relation to blog consumption too; in an article recently published in New Media & Society.
Sparing the detailed description of methodology (quantitative analysis of surveys), here are the results.
- Yes, the use of blogs is positively related to participating in online political discussion.
- Yes, the use of blogs is positively related to campaigning online – i.e. using various online tools to convince others to vote for a given party or candidate.
- Yes, the use of blogs is also positively related to online political participation (e.g. signing petitions or donating money online).
- No, the use of blogs is NOT related in any significant way to offline political participation.
So there seems to be a division between one’s online and offline political activities. But the authors expect that
“political outcomes of blog use will result in enhanced participation at all levels of public life”,
and that the “distinction between online and offline activities will become blurred very quickly.”
I’d agree with this latter idea; however, I don’t fully agree with the conceptualization of “blogs” of the study, or with the way that the authors distinguish between blogs and “traditional online sources.” The authors provide a description of most common features of blogs, but do not settle for a clear definition in the end. Which is understandable, given the large variety of blogs. But then, without a clear definition, it is hard to see what distinguishes them from “traditional online sources” – even though everyone has some kind of hunch about this.
So the point I’m trying to make is that “blog” refers to a format of publishing information on the web. Some blogs are part of the established media, and other are not. Some blogs allow comments and others not. Some blogs provide link to the sources, others don’t; some blogs include pictures and multimedia material, other just texts; some are in English and others are not. Any one of these qualities (and there must be several others) could be used as valid categories of differentiation; but whether or not a website is called or referred to as “blog” is a distinction carrying very little meaning.
In any case, about the link between media use and political participation: the authors present a model of asymmetrical reciprocal causation (ARC), developed by Rojas (2008). This model describes how political participation and informational uses of (traditional) media reinforce each other – but the relationship is asymmetrical insofar as the effect of informational uses of media on participation is stronger than vice versa.
Gil de Zúñiga, Homero, Eulália Puig-I-Abril, Hernando Rojas (2009): “Weblogs, traditional sources online and political participation: an assessment of how the internet is changing the political environment” in New Media & Society 11(4): 553-574.
Rojas, Hernando (2008): “Strategy versus Understanding. How Orientations Toward Political Conversation Influence Political Engagement” in Communication Research 35(4): 452 – 480.