Information Use in Online Civic Discourse: A Study of Health Care Reform Debate

Citation for published article

O'Connor, L. & Rapchak, M. (2012, Winter). Information use in online civic discourse: A study of health care reform debate. Library Trends, 60(3), 497-521. doi:10.1353/lib.2012.0008



Peer Reviewed


Document Type



Gumberg Library


This article reports on a study of civic discourse in online political forums. On March 23, 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law in the United States after heated debate. Some of the debate took place online, often in political forums. This study describes and analyzes the information used to frame and support participants’ opinions within the online environment. Researchers collected 6,322 postings in 226 threads over thirteen months in three discussion boards (two moderated and one unmoderated). Using citation context analysis and citation content analysis, researchers identified the type of sources used by posters (i.e., those individuals who post information online), the quality of such sources, and the responses of other posters to source use. Sources were categorized based on type and coded based on neutrality and authority. The category of most-cited sources was newspapers and newswires. While the majority of postings did not use sources (over 97 percent did not cite any source), of those sources coded (n = 460), over a third were clearly biased and/or unauthoritative. The authors discuss some of the difficulties individuals face in finding and using political information. Recommendations are made for developing national information policy, improving the format of information channels, and designing user education and services to support civic discourse.


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