Information at the Nexus: Young People’s Perceptions of Government and Government Websites

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This dissertation focuses on the perceptions that young people have of federal government websites and of the U.S. government, as well as exploring possible connections between the perceptions of government and government websites. Not only is this a virtually unstudied area of e-government and youth information behavior, but it is also of critical importance as e-government becomes increasingly necessary to Americans’ everyday lives.

The case study included 37 youth across four middle-schools in the mid-Atlantic U.S. who all participated in an after-school program at which they met once per week for 10-12 weeks to research a health topic of interest. During these sessions, they participated in several data collection activities, including an interview, a survey, a word association activity, an evaluation of the homepage of a government website, and card-sorting. The study also included over 60 hours of participant observation.

The study finds that while participants were slightly more likely to have a negative perception of government than to have a positive one, the majority of participants viewed e-government favorably. Perceptions were based on a variety of factors, though perceptions of government were most commonly made through assessments of policy, while perceptions of e-government most commonly focused on the source of the information (i.e. the government). Perhaps most significantly, while there was no overwhelming connection between overall perceptions of government and e-government, participants’ views of information-related policies frequently were raised during discussions about both government and e-government. More specifically, participants focused on such issues as government secrecy, surveillance, and the security of websites against hackers when evaluating government and e-government. Overall, these findings shed light on the opinions of an understudied population in e-government research, offer insight into political socialization as it relates to government information, and inform both policy-makers and educators on how to best disseminate government websites to youth.