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Civic media is the use of social media in the promotion and fostering of civic engagement. The term itself goes beyond mere reporting and gathering information. It refers to community building through social relationships, and the notion of using media to instil civic pride and activism. MIT has a Center for Future Civic Media and describes the term as "...any form of communication that strengthens the social bonds within a community or creates a strong sense of civic engagement among residents. Civic media goes beyond news gathering and reporting. MIT students are experimenting with a variety of new civic media techniques, from technologies for protests and civil disobedience to phone-texting systems that allow instant, sophisticated votes on everyday activities.”
Henry Jenkins, co-director of the MIT center, says civic media is the “the use of any medium that fosters civic engagement.” The concept of a medium for civic engagement refers to the technologies that enable this engagement but also the social practices that define its use. One of the affordances of social media is that they allow for the creation of communities of interest rather than communities of location. They also create the possibility for connecting to those in similar locations who might not otherwise meet. Social media tools that support and enable engagement can be considered civic media; blogs, virtual worlds, social networking platforms are examples as these allow for interactivity and community relationship building. Even the simple act of sharing photographs can be an example of civic media because it might be used to connect and share within the larger community, and fostering engagement.
Leaders in this field include Chris Csikszentmihalyi, Henry Jenkins, Beth Noveck, and Ethan Zuckerman. The MIT Center is working on a number of exciting projects which may be of interest to those wishing to further explore the concept of civic media. The concept of community engagement appeals to librarians and others interesting in community outreach.
Astin's theory of involvement
Astin's theory of involvement refers to students who seem to learn more when they are truly involved in the academic and social aspects of their university experience. The theory says that involved students devote considerable energy to their academic work, spend more time on campus, and participate more in student organizations and activities; they also interact more with faculty. The theory suggests that students play a key role in determining their involvement in classes, extracurricular and social activities. As social media becomes more widely-used in society, the more likely it is that students will use it to communicate. Faculty interaction inside and outside the classroom are also necessary for student growth.
Canadian & international contexts
As the 2011 Canadian elections demonstrated, Canadian citizens want to play a more significant role in civic dialogue and in shaping political discourse in Canada. In terms of social media, for example, more than 20 million Canadians are said to maintain Facebook profiles using them to participate in civic and political discussions. The 2012 London Olympics and the US Presidential race underline these trends.