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New Media, Old Organizations: Managed Membership in the Digital Age Open Access

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The development of interactive digital communications technologies, or social media, has sparked a debate about how these technologies may impact political and social institutions, civic engagement and the public sphere. I approach this question by examining what these shifting communications technologies mean for legacy advocacy organizations in the United States and the manner in which they engage members and followers in advocacy efforts and contribute to political learning. After examining Facebook and Twitter use by the AARP, the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, the Humane Society of the United States and the Sierra Club, I find that while there are glimpses of change, overall these organizations are appropriating new technology in a way that repeats patterns of professionally-managed advocacy as critiqued by Theda Skocpol. Where social media does create greater opportunity for engagement, and political learning it can only be within the context of a broader organizational strategy prioritizing inclusion. Therefore, while social media may cultivate the development of new forms of organizations, or have the potential to foster a digital Habermasian public sphere, in the cases studied it has not yet created structural change in dynamics between professional staff and followers of existing organizations.

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