The Janus-Face of Digitalization: The Relation Between Internet Use and Civic Engagement Reconsidered

Erhardt, Julian; Freitag, Markus (2021). The Janus-Face of Digitalization: The Relation Between Internet Use and Civic Engagement Reconsidered. Social science computer review, 39(3), pp. 315-334. Sage 10.1177/0894439319861966

[img] Text
Erhardt_Freitag_2021_-_The_Janus-Face_of_Digitalization.pdf - Published Version
Restricted to registered users only
Available under License Publisher holds Copyright.

Download (406kB) | Request a copy

Research on the influence of digital technology on civic engagement debates whether Internet use leads to the decline of civic engagement or enables new social contacts and exchanges. We argue that whether Internet use has positive or negative effects on our civic engagement depends on how we use the Internet: Social Internet use and Internet use for information strengthen civic engagement, while private Internet use and Internet use for entertainment erode civic engagement. Data from the Longitudinal Internet Studies for the Social sciences (LISS) Panel and the Swiss Household Panel (SHP) allow us to employ differentiated measures of Internet use. In particular, their panel structure helps diminish the endogeneity problems of cross-sectional studies. By employing an autoregressive cross-lagged panel design, we are able to disentangle the relation between Internet use and associational participation and estimate the causal effect between the two variables in both directions. Analyzing associational participation as a pivotal pillar of the civil society, we show that social Internet use for information, in particular exchanging e-mails, but also being active on social network sites in the SHP, increases the likelihood of becoming or remaining active in an organization. At the same time, we fail to find consistent and robust evidence for the negative effects of Internet use. However, the causal relation also works the other way round: Associational participation was shown to increase the time respondents spend with writing e-mails, leading to a virtuous circle, whereby online and off-line forms of social engagement complement and enhance each other.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


03 Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences > Social Sciences > Institute of Political Science

UniBE Contributor:

Erhardt, Julian Jonas, Freitag, Markus


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 320 Political science








Julian Jonas Erhardt

Date Deposited:

23 Dec 2019 14:13

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:32

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Civic engagement, Internet, digitalization, reverse causality, cross-lagged panel design




Actions (login required)

Edit item Edit item
Provide Feedback