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A Study of New Communication Technologies and Civic Engagement : A Time to Reconceptualize the Research Constructs?
Unformatted Document Text:  8 that it may promote bridging social capital, as indicated by significant number of users who belong to online communities or have found friends online. Without a doubt, the Net is much more than a simple reinforcer of existing local social networks. Firstly, it is inherently global and distance insensitive. Secondly, it offers anonymity for its users. Thirdly, it is an intelligent technology, with searchable and non- linear architecture (i.e. search engines, hyperlinks, filtering, etc). It terms of its potential for promoting bridging social capital, however, situation is not entirely clear. Putnam (2000) suggests that virtual communities are likely to be more egalitarian than real, largely because of the poverty of social cues in online environments; however, the downside is that a lack of social context inhibits genuine collaboration and trust. In the online world, networks are more likely to be organized by shared interest, than by shared space and virtual communities are thus more likely to be demographically heterogeneous, but also more homogenous in terms of interest and values. Moreover, easiness of entry and exit into online communities is not conducive of trustworthiness, reciprocity and commitment (Putnam 2000). Consequently, weak ties are likely to be dominant in virtual communities. The above discussion indicates that the Net use may have positive affects on social capital and political participation. As far as negative effects of the Web are concerned, there is very little empirical evidence suggesting this kind of relationship, with a possible exception of the problems associated with “digital divide”. That has not stopped some scholars from speculating about potentially detrimental effects of the Internet on liberal democracy. For example, Sunstein (2001) worries about the inherent

Authors: Skoric, Marko.
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that it may promote bridging social capital, as indicated by significant number of users
who belong to online communities or have found friends online.
Without a doubt, the Net is much more than a simple reinforcer of existing local
social networks. Firstly, it is inherently global and distance insensitive. Secondly, it offers
anonymity for its users. Thirdly, it is an intelligent technology, with searchable and non-
linear architecture (i.e. search engines, hyperlinks, filtering, etc). It terms of its potential
for promoting bridging social capital, however, situation is not entirely clear. Putnam
(2000) suggests that virtual communities are likely to be more egalitarian than real,
largely because of the poverty of social cues in online environments; however, the
downside is that a lack of social context inhibits genuine collaboration and trust. In the
online world, networks are more likely to be organized by shared interest, than by shared
space and virtual communities are thus more likely to be demographically heterogeneous,
but also more homogenous in terms of interest and values. Moreover, easiness of entry
and exit into online communities is not conducive of trustworthiness, reciprocity and
commitment (Putnam 2000). Consequently, weak ties are likely to be dominant in virtual
communities.
The above discussion indicates that the Net use may have positive affects on
social capital and political participation. As far as negative effects of the Web are
concerned, there is very little empirical evidence suggesting this kind of relationship,
with a possible exception of the problems associated with “digital divide”. That has not
stopped some scholars from speculating about potentially detrimental effects of the
Internet on liberal democracy. For example, Sunstein (2001) worries about the inherent


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