Academic and media discourse have long considered the democratising potential of the Internet, and its impact on political engagement. This talk gives an overview of the empirical evidence that supports those claims, paying special attention to what users do online that helps strengthen their political involvement. The talk will start by considering research linking Internet use with offline participation; it then discusses the mechanisms that might be mediating this association, with a focus on the role played by informal interactions and networks. Users expand their social circles online, and peripheral contacts or casual relationships become more consequential. These informal networks activate three mechanisms that are relevant to understanding political engagement. First, they widen exposure to information; second, they encourage public discussion and deliberation; and third, they support new forms of association. This talk concludes with a consideration of what makes online communities successful at activating political engagement, and how their effects can spill over into offline politics.
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