Inter-organizational digital divide: Civic groups' media strategies in the Trinity River Corridor Project

tends to lower social barriers to citizens' participation in local politics. The second is whether
new media reinforces preexisting social barriers restricting non-elites' participation in local
politics. In what follows we review both the lowered barriers thesis and the reinforcement (or
digital divide) thesis, as well as empirical studies of ICTs and civic groups that address these
theses. Our reading of the literature suggest a need for comparative studies (Hara and Jo, 2007)
of fields (Van Laer, 2010) or networks (Diani, 2000, 2002) of civic organizations, and our
empirical analysis is of a field of civic organizations in Dallas, Texas, working on both sides (for
and against) of a proposition to prevent a toll road from being built through a park area within
the Trinity River Corridor Project (TRCP) near downtown Dallas. Our methodology, discussed
below, is qualitative comparative organizational analysis (Curtis and Zurcher, 1973; Evans,
1997; Zhao, 1998; Bartley, 2007). Our main findings are that ICTs, including social media, were
used mainly by groups that were not directly involved in major political actions, and that despite
the democratizing potential of the Internet, a sharp digital divide existed at the organizational
field level between wealthy and well-connected civic groups that mobilized mainly professional
resources, and those with less financial and social capital that mobilized mainly participatory
resources (Diani, 2000).
I
2. Theory
Early scholarship on the political implications of the Internet was generally optimistic about its
potential to increase political participation in a democratic society (Resnick, 1997; Alexander,
1999; Tambini, 1999; cf, Brants, et al., 1996; Streck, 1998; Bimber, 2001). Some empirical
studies of civic organizations are supportive of this early optimism, although more recent
research tends to be more skeptical.
2.1. Lowered barriers
Since the 1990s scholars have extolled the power of information technology to lower financial
and organizational barriers to democratic participation (Dertouzos, 1991; Bertelson, 1992;
Rheingold, 1993; Castells, 1996; Ess, 1996; Poster, 1997; Bimber, 1998; Jones, 1998; Kellner,
1999; Klein, 1999; Tambini, 1999; Sleven, 2000; Shah, et al., 2001; Tolbert and McNeal, 2003;
Byerly, 2005; Kobayashi, et al., 2006). ICTs and new media are thought to encourage
democratic participation because of their ability to liberate citizens from restrictions inherent in
traditional mass media (Rucht, 2004). Where newspapers, television, and radio tend to frame the
news in ways that favor established institutions and figures of authority (Gitlin, 1980; Ryan,
1991), ICTs and new media create opportunities for social movements and civic groups to
bypass the distorting filter of the mass media (Myers, 2000; Scott and Street, 2000; Garrett,
2006).
The Internet has expanded the repertoires of contention [3] available to social movements and
civic groups (Preece, 2000; Scott and Street, 2000; Couldry and Curran, 2003; Hwang, et al.,
2006). These groups now avail themselves of a '"digitalized" social movement repertoire' [4].

Ignatow, Gabriel & Schuett, Jessica Lynn. Inter-organizational digital divide: Civic groups' media strategies in the Trinity River Corridor Project. [Chicago, Illinois]. UNT Digital Library. http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc78305/. Accessed December 19, 2014.