2 in 10 Adults Digitally Track Local Issues

June 15, 2010

Roughly 2 in 10 US adults uses digital tools to stay informed about local issues, according to data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

In December 2009, 22% of all adults (28% of internet users) said they had signed up to receive alerts about local issues (such as traffic, school events, weather warnings or crime alerts) via email or text messaging. Another 20% of all adults (27% of internet users) had used digital tools to talk to their neighbors and keep informed about community issues in the past 12 months.

One in 10 Adults Reads Community Blog and/or Emails about Local Issues
Fourteen percent (14%) of internet users, or 11% of all American adults, read a blog dealing with community issues in the 12 months preceding December 2009. In addition, slightly more than one in 10 email users (13%, representing 9% of all adults) exchanged email with their neighbors about community issues in the 12 months preceding December 2009.

The following demographic variations exist among local emailers:

  • College graduates: 21% of online college graduates exchanged email with neighbors about community issues. Among email users who have not graduated college, just 9% have done this.
  • Those ages 30 and older: Among email users, just 8% of 18-29-year-olds exchange emails with neighbors about community issues, compared with 15% of those ages 30-49, 14% of those ages 50-64 and 19% of those ages 65 and older.
  • Parents: 17% of email-using parents and 11% of non-parents have exchanged email with neighbors about issues in their community.
  • Ethnic differences: Among email users, 15% of whites and 9% of both African Americans and Hispanics shared email with neighbors about community issues in the preceding year, differences that are not statistically significant.

In contrast to email interactions, neighborhood blogs are relatively popular with young adults: 16% of online 18-29 year olds read a blog dealing with community issues, similar to the rate for those ages 30-64 (15%) and significantly higher than internet users 65 and older (9% of whom have done so).

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Community blogs are particularly popular among residents of urban areas, as 17% of wired urbanites read a blog dealing with community issues. This is significantly higher than the 11% online rural residents who read such blogs. Online whites (14%), blacks (18%) and Hispanics (13%) are equally likely to read community blogs, and there is relatively little variation on this question based on income and education.

One in 10 SocNet Users Gets Local Info
Nearly one in 10 social network users (8%) joined an online group focused on community issues in the 12 months preceding December 2009, which works out to 5% of all internet users and 4% of all American adults. Social network users ages 18-29 (9%) and 30-49 (10%) are equally likely to join such groups, while those ages 50 and older (5%) are relatively unlikely to do so. Other than age, there is little variation within the social networking cohort when it comes to using these services to keep up with community events.

Among adults who use Twitter or other status update services, 14% use these sites to follow their neighbors, which works out to 3% of all internet users and 2% of all American adults.

Women, Wealthy, Educated Like Email Groups
Seven percent (7%) of online adults, or 5% of all American adults, belong to a group email list, listserv or online discussion forum for their neighborhood. Online groups and email lists are especially popular with college graduates and high income-earners.

Among internet users, 13% of college graduates belong to this type of online forum (compared with 6% of those with some college experience and 3% of those with a high school degree or less). Similarly, 15% of internet users with an annual household income of $75,000 or more belong to an email list or discussion forum, compared with just 2% of those with a household income of $50,000 or less.

Unlike the other ways of keeping up with community events we have discussed thus far, women are more likely than men to belong to online neighborhood groups. Nine percent of online women are part of such a group, compared with 5% of men. There is also some variation around race and ethnicity. Among internet users, whites (8%) are more likely than Latinos (3%) to belong to such groups (8% of online African-Americans belong to a community forum or email list).

Participation in these groups is also more prominent in urban and suburban areas than in rural parts of the country. Among internet users, 10% of urban residents, 7% of suburbanites and just 2% of rural dwellers belong to a neighborhood list.

Texting Not Major Local Information Tool
Nearly 70% of cell phone owners use their mobile devices to send text messages, yet texting is not currently a major tool for neighbor-to-neighbor interactions. Just 6% of these cell texters, or 4% of all American adults, exchanged text messages with neighbors about community issues and events in the 12 months prior to December 2009.

Americans Get News on Multiple Platforms
The overwhelming majority of Americans (92%) use multiple platforms to get news on a typical day, according to other recent findings from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Americans get their news from a combination of on- and offline sources, including national TV, local TV, the internet, local newspapers, radio, and national newspapers. Six in ten Americans (59%) get news from a combination of online and offline sources on a typical day, and the internet is now the third most popular news platform, behind local television news and national television news.

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