University of Tasmania

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How personalisation is transforming civic participation : a regional digital ethnographic case study

posted on 2024-03-20, 23:28 authored by Ross, AL

Social media platforms have played a significant role in re-shaping the way individuals connect to civic issues and participate in civil society. People increasingly use platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to inform themselves about matters of common concern. Advertisers have followed consumers. Audience fragmentation has contributed to the dismantling of news media business models with local newspapers being hardest hit. This study offers a unique perspective on the allure of social media platforms by examining individual motivations driving media use for civic connection and participation. It investigates how societal shifts such as the personalisation of common causes and media content online have altered the nature of civic participation. Some scholars use evidence of uninterest in formal politics and collective forms of public participation to claim people are increasingly disengaged in civic life. Others argue that individualism has encouraged people to connect to civic issues in different ways, largely using digital technology. This thesis enters the debate by using data generated through a regional Australian digital ethnographic case study to consider how an individual’s daily media use influences the way they participate in civil society. Diaries and semi-structured interviews are used as research tools to construct a thick description of the print, broadcast and online media content prioritised by 21 participants for civic participation on a daily basis. The tendency for participants from the regional Tasmanian city of Launceston to internalise issues of common concern was found to influence the nature of their civic participation. Civic participation is conceptualised as a process. The first step of the process involves connection to civic matters. The second step is action taken with the intent of benefiting the common good. Three themes are used to describe how participants were motivated to use media to connect and act on civic matters: controlled connectedness, trust and geographical proximity. These factors drove participants to prioritise Facebook as their primary source of information overall. Participants’ connection to Facebook and Instagram, to a lesser degree, influenced the way they took civic action. In previous work, the term ‘civic’ is generally used to imply engagement in public life. This thesis develops civic participatory typologies by describing how participants did not always publicise their civic action and considers individual motivations driving personal action in one’s private realm. This study also considers the conditions under which people are less likely to enter public debate on the Facebook News Feed and examines how and why social media users choose to engage in constructive discussion in semi-private spaces instead, such as Facebook Groups and messaging applications. In summary, this study provides practical insights into individual motivations driving social media use for civic connection and develops a more nuanced theoretical understanding of individual civic participatory practices, within a regional geographic context.



  • PhD Thesis


xiii, 243 pages


School of Creative Arts and Media


University of Tasmania

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Copyright 2022 the author.


Portions of chapters 2, 4, 5, 8 and appendix II appear to be the equivalent of a pre-print version of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journalism studies on 26 April 2021, available at:

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