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Home > Books & Journals > Journal Abstracts Last Updated: 11:11 01/06/2009
Journal Abstracts #309: November 10, 2008

Information, Communication & Society

Journal Name: Information, Communication & Society:
Volume 11, Issue 4, June 2008

Online ISSN: 1468-4462, Print ISSN: 1369-118X


THE TARGETS OF ONLINE PROTEST: State and private targets of four online protest tactics (p449-472)
Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport (Department of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, USA)
A major debate has erupted in recent work on social movements about the role of the state in protest, with some advocating alternative approaches to the study of social movements, such as a focus on institutional authorities. Using data on four types of online protest (petitions, boycotts, and letter-writing and email campaigns), acquired using an innovative new methodology that produces a generalizable sample of online protest actions, this paper addresses this debate. While the state is a frequent target of online protest, a significant portion of protest activity targets other institutional authorities. The authors' analyses disaggregate the state and distinguish between types of institutional authorities, further deepening the understanding of both state and non-state actors. Their data also suggest an association between tactical forms and their targets. Finally, by using Internet data, this paper contributes to an under-studied area of social movement research: online protest.

Keywords: Online protest; contentious politics; Internet

Emily Thorson (Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA)
This study examines how the prevalence of news recommendation engines, such as the most-emailed stories list on the front page of the New York Times website, could change patterns of news consumption. The top five most-emailed articles from the New York Times website were collected for two 23-day periods. The content of the most-emailed list was found to differ both from the articles cued by editors in a traditional newspaper format and from patterns of individual online news browsing. Opinion, business and national news articles appear most frequently on the most-emailed list, and more than half of the total articles appeared on the list for multiple days. Counter-intuitive articles and articles that offered advice about life issues were significantly more likely to remain on the list for multiple days. The data suggest that the most-emailed list, part of a larger family of news recommendation engines (NREs), acts both as an aggregator of individual actions and as a new way for online users to navigate online information. In this second capacity, NREs demonstrate a public endorsement of particular content. This endorsement may both affect the articles to which news consumers are exposed and change their attitude towards these articles. NREs thus have the potential to change patterns of news consumption by allowing readers to communicate both with each other and, indirectly, with news institutions themselves.

Keywords: News recommendation engines; public endorsement; selective exposure; internet; news media; New York Times; social networks

Jeffrey Boase (Department of Social Psychology, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan)
In contrast to technologically deterministic approaches that focus on how communication technology affects social relationships, this paper examines how individuals draw on a variety of commonly used communication media in conjunction with in-person contact to stay connected to their personal networks. I term this use of multiple communication media the 'personal communication system'. Findings are based on a random sample telephone survey of 2200 adults living throughout the continental USA. Descriptive statistics show that despite the popularity of email and mobile phones, in-person and landline phone contact are still the most common ways of connecting with personal networks. Multivariate analysis reveals a more complex picture of media use, showing that the extent to which each medium is used varies to differing degrees with the size and diversity of personal networks. Hierarchical cluster analysis is used to explore the possibility that individuals may have different types of personal communication systems. Results show only two distinct clusters: those who draw heavily on all types of media to connect with their personal networks and those who draw less heavily on all types of media. Heavy communicators typically have larger and more diverse personal networks than light communicators. When taken together, the results presented in this paper suggest that rather than radically altering relationships, communication technology is embedded in social networks as part of a larger communication system that individuals use to stay socially connected.

Keywords: Community; social networks; personal networks; computer mediated communication; Internet; telephone; mobile phone; email; communication networks; social capital; personal relationships; informatics

Patricia Drentea (Department of Sociology, University of Alabama-Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA); Melinda Goldner (Department of Sociology, Union College, Schenectady, NY, USA); Shelia Cotten (Department of Sociology, University of Alabama-Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA); Timothy Hale (Department of Sociology, University of Alabama-Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA)
Research investigating the impacts of computer and Internet use is increasing; however, few sociologists explore how this use may impact on mental health outcomes. The authors use data from the 2004 General Social Survey to examine the relationship among gender, computer and Internet use for health purposes and mental health. Their findings are mixed in that computer and Internet use are both positively and negatively related to mental health. They find evidence that there may be a selection bias occurring in which those with the greatest well-being problems are the ones searching online for health information. When computer and the Internet use variables were included in the models, the effect of gender on likelihood of experiencing poor mental health was attenuated, which suggests that particular types of Internet use may mediate gender disparities in mental health.

Keywords: Computer use; Internet; mental health; depression; self-esteem; gender

Anabel Quan-Haase (University of Western Ontario, Information and Media Studies/Sociology, London, Ontario, Canada); Jessica L. Collins (Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
Synchronous communication technologies facilitate coordination, afford social accessibility, and allow for flexible contact at a distance. The authors investigate the temporal structure of social accessibility, individuals' definitions of public and private time, and how social accessibility and privacy are negotiated. They examine university students' social accessibility in instant messaging with a multi-method study utilizing surveys, focus groups and interviews. Four key characteristics were identified: predictability, downtime, online concurrent IM activities, and multitasking. Private and public time blur seamlessly in IM, with students making themselves available as a function of social relationships and context. Negotiation of social accessibility is complex and often evolves over the development of a relationship. Three strategies are discussed that help students manage their availability in IM. Despite the lack of formal rules in the use of these strategies, participants have shared understandings of these practices, and the meaning they convey to others.

Keywords: Instant messaging (IM); synchronous communication; social accessibility; university students; computer-mediated communication (CMC); privacy

What can we learn about these sites from those who won't assimilate?
Zeynep Tufekci (University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, USA)
This paper explores the rapid adoption of online social network sites (also known as social networking sites) (SNSs) by students on a US college campus. Using quantitative (n = 713) and qualitative (n = 51) data based on a diverse sample of college students, demographic and other characteristics of SNS users and non-users are compared. Starting with the theoretical frameworks of Robin Dunbar and Erving Goffman, this paper situates SNS activity under two rubrics: (1) social grooming; and (2) presentation of the self. This study locates these sites within the emergence of social computing and makes a conceptual distinction between the expressive Internet, the Internet of social interactions, and the instrumental Internet, the Internet of airline tickets and weather forecasts. This paper compares and contrasts the user and non-user populations in terms of expressive and instrumental Internet use, social ties and attitudes toward social-grooming, privacy and efficiency. Two clusters are found to influence SNS adoption: attitudes towards social grooming and privacy concerns. It is especially found that non-users display an attitude towards social grooming (gossip, small-talk and generalized, non-functional people-curiosity) that ranges from incredulous to hostile. Contrary to expectations, non-users do not report a smaller number of close friends compared with users, but they do keep in touch with fewer people. Users of SNS are also heavier users of the expressive Internet, while there is no difference in use of instrumental Internet. Gender also emerges as an important predictor. These findings highlight the need to differentiate between the different modalities of Internet use.

Keywords: Social network sites; Dunbar; Goffman; presentation of self; social grooming; Internet; Facebook; Myspace

Social contact in online public domains
Shanyang Zhao and David Elesh (Department of Sociology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA)
This article examines the issue of 'ubiquitous connectivity' on the Internet. The Internet, combined with the wireless technologies, is said to have made it possible for 'anyone to contact anyone else anywhere at anytime', but such ubiquity of connectivity has failed to materialize in actual human contact. Drawing on Goffman and Giddens's theories of human interaction, the authors make a distinction between co-location, which is a spatial relationship among individuals, and copresence, a social relationship. While co-location puts people within range of each other, copresence renders people mutually accessible for contact. However, the establishment of copresence is normatively regulated in society, which demarcates different regions of space for different types of activity. Social contact takes place in a domain where copresence is affected not only by the regionality of contact but also by the power relations that underlie personal affinity and social engagement. It is concluded that so long as there are social barriers that separate people into different groups of interests and different positions in the hierarchy of fame and power, there will be fragmentations in the online world that make the ubiquity of social connectivity impossible.

Keywords: Copresence; Internet; online communication; social network; ubiquitous connectivity

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