From Street Protests to Facebook Campaigns: Political Cynicism, Efficacy and Online Political Engagement of Sri Lankan Students

From Street Protests to Facebook Campaigns: Political Cynicism, Efficacy and Online Political Engagement of Sri Lankan Students

Chamil Rathnayake (University of Hawaii, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7669-3.ch059


This study examines effects of political cynicism and efficacy on online political engagement of Sri Lankan undergraduates. A survey was conducted among 155 Sri Lankan undergraduates that support the views of the Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF), an evidently anti-government student movement that claims to be dedicated to protecting free education in the country. Initial analysis showed that respondents were highly cynical (mean: 4.49 on a 1 to 5 scale). The study hypothesized that both political cynicism and efficacy exert a positive impact on online political engagement of respondents. The study also tested the effects of two moderators (extent of Facebook use, and the year of study). Results showed that political cynicism exerts a positive impact (standardized coefficient:.274, p:.000) on online political engagement, and this effect is positively moderated by the extent of Facebook use (standardized coefficient:.261, p:.000). Results also showed that internal political efficacy is not a significant predictor of the dependent variable.
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Social networks provide interactive platforms for local communities to play a more active role in politics. Political behavior on social networks is affected by factors including citizens’ trust in government and frustration towards politics. Although many researchers have studied political cynicism and efficacy in the context of offline politics, these constructs have not been examined adequately in the context of online social networks. Several researchers have paid attention on political cynicism and efficacy with special attention on online politics (e.g. English et al., 2011; Hanson et al., 2010; Chang et al., 2009). However, further studies are required to examine effects of political cynicism on online political engagement in developing context, South Asian context in particular. This study suggests that online political engagement should be examined in specific contexts, considering issues that affect local communities. Political participation is context-dependent. A citizen’s interest in different policy issues may directly affect his/her engagement in each debate. Therefore, examining political engagement in specific contexts is a better approach to understand dynamics of online political engagement.

Many researchers have focused on specific cases or contexts to study public participation in politics and policymaking (e.g., Irvin & Stansbury, 2004; Rowe, Marsh, & Frewer, 2004; Halvorsen, 2003). Accordingly, selecting a policy issue that has inspired online activism would help model online political engagement. Developing countries are rapidly developing their ICT infrastructure, and South Asia is no exception. As a result, citizens in South Asian countries increasingly embrace social media. Political engagement in South Asian countries is important to study as these countries have unique political cultures. There is a dearth of studies that focus on social media activism in South Asia. This study attempts to fill this gap by examining political cynicism, efficacy, and online public engagement in the context of student activism in Sri Lanka. In many countries, university students are considered radical and politically active. This is the case in Sri Lanka where undergraduates are considered radical, politically active, and organized. Accordingly, this study focuses on examining relationships among political cynicism, efficacy, and online political engagement of Sri Lankan undergraduates.

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