Pew Study on Use of Government Web Sites

Matthew Lasar at Ars Technica teases out some interesting threads from a newly released Pew Internet and American Life Survey. I didn’t see anything that surprised me in his breakdown, finding in general that use of government furnished online services is up across the board. He also points out a broad corollary between those who make more use of such services and a greater level of trust in the government.

One of the not surprising revelations is that there remains a considerable digital divide.

[T]he composite online government site addict was either male or female (52/48 percent), white non-Hispanic (74 percent), aged 30-49 (42 percent), and college educated (52 percent). This person was very likely to have home broadband (91 percent) and/or wireless Internet (78 percent), go online for political news (90 percent) and participate on social networking sites (65 percent).

There is cause for hope. In the two new classes of users revealed among the respondents, there is a better representation across divides for government social media use.

African Americans and Hispanics were by far the most enthusiastic about government interactive and social networking site features. Sixty-three percent of African-Americans, 44 percent of Hispanics, and 32 percent of whites agreed with the statement that government sponsored online digital tools “help people be more informed about what the government is doing.”

I am not sure what, if anything, that says about access to the net in context with access to other media useful for interacting with government. You have to bear in mind that phone calls and letters still carry more weight when dealing with our elected representatives than even email, let alone social networks and messaging.

I have one additional concern, a significant one, in seeing such a positive trend towards both greater use and participation through the net. The more everyone comes to depend on online offerings for public resources, the greater the risk of IP terrorist tactics like three strikes disconnect policies of wreaking more damage.

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