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Study Suggests the Web Makes for More Engaged Citizenry

kid on computerIt's commonly held that America's youth are largely apolitical, apathetic and increasingly antisocial, thanks in part to the Web. But a new study from the MacArthur Foundation and the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning is challenging that assumption. The study followed some 2,500 students from California schools, with 400 of them being studied over the course of three years. Researchers found that youth who engage with online communities, including simply sharing political and social views on sites like Facebook, were very likely to take their activism offline.

In a stiff rebuke to critics who claim that the Web fosters social isolation, the study states, "Youth engagement in interest-driven online communities was associated with increased volunteer and charity work... The Internet can serve as a gateway to online and offline civic and political engagement."

As an added bonus, the study found that today's youth were exploring a broad range of opinions online, and not just entering echo chambers where their own beliefs were spit back at them. The study also noted that digital literacy played a big part in determining the spectrum of encountered opinions and the level of engagement, highlighting the need to institute digital literacy curriculum in our schools.

It's worth pointing out that the study had a fairly limited sample size, and only looked at students in California. But, the findings do give us reason for hope, especially when combined with a recent study from Pew that found adult Internet users were also more civically engaged.

Tags: activism, civic, MacArthur Foundation and the Center for Information and Research, MacarthurFoundationAndTheCenterForInformationAndResearchOnCivicL, politics, SocialNetworking, study, top, web