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The Participation of the Less Fortunate Keywords: Unemployment,

2012-04-20 , Bosshart, Annick , Feuls, Miriam , Fieseler, Christian , Suphan, Anne

The advent of social media has changed the information environment drastically over the past 10 years. The new Internet is characterized by the vital participation of its users and comprises a variety of tools and sites for shared information creation and updating as well as social networking and communication (Bawden, 2008). The article will discuss how social media changes and possibly facilitates the way of coping with societal exclusion, and possible means of organizing and action to empower the so-cially disadvantaged for participation. We want to argue that social media brings unique opportunities, but also challenges especially for the socially disadvantaged. For those, ac-cess to the Internet has increasingly less become an issue, at least in developed countries, but the social and strategic competencies to make full use of the participatory potentials of social media are yet often not as developed as the more 'elite' users. This contribution will address, in particular, the concerns of one particular marginalized group, those of the un-employed, and will examine the potential of social media for coping with unemployment and facilitating the reentry into the job market. The guiding research questions behind the study are a) How and for what do unemployed persons use the different opportunities offered by the Internet and especially social media? b) Which conditions and individual characteristics affect their usage patterns? c) What are the consequences of the usage behav-ior on personal well-being, inclusion and the motivation to seek work? d) Which media skills do unemployed persons have, to use the Internet specifically for job search? Based on semi-structured interviews conducted in October 2011 and performed with 28 following the contrasting sampling method selected unemployed persons, we demonstrate that the Internet in general and social media in particular are of high relevance for job search. Furthermore, we point out that new digital media opens up additional possibilities to overcome exclusionary processes and structures, and influence the subjective perception of precarity by disadvantaged persons and therefore their feeling of societal exclusion. However, not every individual makes equal use of the opportunities new, social media may provide. We will show that different usage patterns, along the interdependencies be-tween recreational and instrumental use, depend on socio-demographic, psychological and motivational characteristics, combined with different degrees of literacy and experience. Therefore, both theoretical and practical issues are addressed. From a theoretical point of view, the context and the implications of social media are applied to the context of the marginalized and the unemployed, thus widening the scope of social media research. From a practical point of view, the article presents a perspective on the question of social partici-pation in a more and more digital environment.