Digital literacy and online political behavior


Digital literacy is receiving increased scholarly attention as a potential explanatory factor in the spread of misinformation and other online pathologies. As a concept, however, it remains surprisingly elusive, with little consensus on definitions or measures. We provide a digital literacy framework for political scientists and test survey items to measure it with an application to online information retrieval tasks. There exists substantial variation in levels of digital literacy in the population, which we show is correlated with age and could confound observed relationships. However, this is obscured by researchers’ reliance on online convenience samples that select for people with computer and internet skills. We discuss the implications of these measurement and sample selection considerations for effect heterogeneity in studies of online political behavior. We argue that there is no universally applicable formula for selecting a given non-probability sample or operationalization of the concept of digital literacy; instead, we conclude, researchers should make theoretically informed arguments about how they select both sample and measure.

Political Science Research and Methods