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Investigating Information Poverty

The Internet is not only a useful source of information it has also become an important social resource.

Ian Ruthven | Laura Hasler

Internet-mediated communication tools, such as discussion groups, newsgroups, and chatrooms, have provided ways to connect to other people for a variety of social reasons and a particular use of social technology is to gain informational and social support in times of personal crisis. One of the attractions of Internet communication is that it allows people to find or solicit information outside of their normal social environments particularly if they feel they cannot share their concerns within their immediate social groups.

This unwillingness to ask for information within an individual's normal social environment as one of the distinguishing features of information poverty. Information poverty arises when people do not request information from their peer groups (including friends or family) due to the perceived risks of exposing the need for information. If a need for information is critical, however, then individuals will 'break out' of their usual patterns of information seeking and discover new ways of finding information. Increasingly this means turning to the Internet for help and advice.

The CIS department has been awarded a research grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to investigate the use of the Internet by those who may suffer from Information Poverty. The study will examine what information is sought by people who use social technology to ask for help when no other help is seen as available: what are people willing to ask strangers on the Internet that they will not ask their friends or family and what types of information do they receive in response to these requests for help?

This research will add to our understanding of the role the Internet plays in providing informational and social support. Using information poverty as a conceptual guide, the proposed research will shed light on the information seeking activities of people, often in marginalised groups and vulnerable situations, who feel they have no other avenues of support. By understanding why people turn away from formal sources of information we can help social information providers design alternatives mode of communication to reach these vulnerable people.