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University of Michigan School of Information


Social media and civic involvement

Tuesday, 05/22/2018

Communities that have citizens involved in civic activity experience lower crime, poverty and unemployment rates, and higher health and education rates. To what extent does social media activity enhance these benefits? And how can this technology be designed to increase civic engagement?

Libby Hemphill, UMSI associate professor of information, will be investigating these questions in her study, “Understanding and Designing Information Communication Technologies to Improve Communities.” The study is funded by a National Science Foundation grant of $201,251. 

Hemphill is also a research associate professor at the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, Institute for Social Research.

“At the core of this study is an examination of how social media are used as tools for collective action,” Hemphill says. “You can think of it as a test of the ‘slacktivism’ hypothesis: Are we just clicking buttons when we use social media, or does that online engagement lead to offline benefits?” 

Hemphill will explore these issues by comparing social media use for civic organizing in two rural and one urban area. 

“Much of my work focuses on politicians,” she says, “and I was interested in the constituent side of political communication. What were people talking about that was related to more mundane civic activity, not just regime-change level protests? 

“I'm also often frustrated by how we ignore rural communities in the U.S.  I wanted to include them in the broader conversation about social media and its impacts.”

Hemphill hopes the study will lend insights into how this understudied population uses ICT for social purposes.

The study will help inform best practices guidelines that community members can use to increase civic engagement. Hemphill also will use study results to develop new courses, as well.


- Sheryl James, UMSI PR Specialist