Twenty years ago, Robert Putnam wrote about the rise of “bowling alone,” a metaphor for people participating in activities as individuals instead of groups that can lead to community. This led to the decline in social capital in America. The problem of individual participation as opposed to community building has become an even bigger problem since the invention of smartphones, the Internet as the source of all information, social networking, and asynchronous entertainment. We never need to talk to anyone anymore and it often feels like an imposition when we ask for an answer we know we could find online.
Putnam posited that the decline in social capital is a cause for decline in civic engagement and participation in democracy. If we aren’t engaged socially with the people around us, we don’t have as much incentive to care about what is going on that might affect them. Local elections have low voter turnout in part because people aren’t aware of or engaged in local issues.
In an attempt to chip away at this problem, platforms that attempt to encourage people to engage in civic life with government and local communities have been popping up. But how well do they actually engage people? These platforms are often criticized for producing “slacktivists” who are applying the minimum amount of effort possible and not really effecting change. Several of these platforms were evaluated to see how they work and to determine how well they actually promote civic engagement.