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ERIC Number: ED517363
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2010
Pages: 254
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 0
ISBN: ISBN-978-1-1097-4512-2
The Myth of Fragmentation: Assessing Political Information Online
Wichowski, Alexis M.
ProQuest LLC, Ph.D. Dissertation, State University of New York at Albany
Internet technology has provided people with unprecedented abilities to filter the information they encounter, leading many scholars to fear that people will be exposed to less diversity of perspectives and fragment into homogeneous interest groups. Exposure to a wide range of topics and perspectives about political information in particular is considered necessary by many scholars in order for citizens to be informed participants in democratic life. However, fears that the Internet leads to fragmentation rest on three assumptions: 1. online, opportunities for unintended encounters with a diversity of information are limited, 2. people primarily pursue narrow interests when consuming online content, and 3. narrow pursuit of interests leads to less informed citizens. This dissertation examined political information online to provide empirical data that tested these assumptions. This was achieved using mixed data collection methods, including screen captures of popular and specialized websites and a computer-lab browsing task addressing customization--how people filter information exposure online--and informing practices--how people inform themselves and others about the content they find online. The findings of this study reveal that scholarly assumptions about fragmentation due to the Internet are misplaced. Opportunities to encounter political information online do indeed exist on both popular and specialized websites: out of the 100 websites selected by a sample of 25 study participants, political content comprised an average of 14% homepage content on popular websites and an average of 15% on specialized websites of those sites containing political content. The participants pursued general interests online as well as narrow ones: 44% of participants' homepages were popular websites, with a predominance of portals, and 49% of total websites selected were either popular websites, affiliates of or subpages within popular websites. Last, the participants in the study only chose political content as items of interest 7% of the time, suggesting little interest in political topics. This research contributes much needed data to the scholarly debate over the relationship between the Internet and opportunities for exposure to diverse political information, as well as the practices involved in becoming informed citizens. [The dissertation citations contained here are published with the permission of ProQuest LLC. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission. Copies of dissertations may be obtained by Telephone (800) 1-800-521-0600. Web page:]
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Publication Type: Dissertations/Theses - Doctoral Dissertations
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A