I can't believe what I'm reading. In these forums, I mean.
Before I explain that, let me say that I've tweaked a few of my research dials. I'll still be observing four youth-oriented websites, and the first I've tackled is Student.com, where I've decided to focus exclusively on the "Question of the Day" section. This is where members can post a question and other members have 24 hours to reply with a short answer, usually 1-3 sentences. This of course does not allow people to discuss topics in depth, but it seems to function the same way a formal survey or ScanTron does--it gets people's immediate, condensed/summarized thoughts. One question is posted every single day and the archives go back to December 2004. I browsed all questions posted from September 1, 2008 to March 10, 2010 looking for attitudes regarding civic engagement issues: news readership, voting, volunteering, civics, communities, campaigns, and activism. Question threads I've picked to analyze are:
-Besides winning a Nobel Peace Prize, what else has President Obama accomplished?
-How do you feel about world hunger and poverty?
-What strong beliefs do you have and how far would you go to defend them?
-Which cause would [you] promote during a protest or riot?
-What should government officials consider regarding improving your education system?
-Why have you or have you not done volunteer work?
-Do you donate blood? Why or why not?
-[Who] do you want to win the US Presidential Election (today)?
I noticed there was a MASSIVE change in opinion about Obama, with commenters morphing from a cheering crowd in November 2008 into a cynical, extremely negative crowd in March 2010. That's a large topic in itself, but I'll be gleaning those posts for attitudes toward voting efficacy.
I also plan to describe the general atmosphere of Student.com. And for anyone interested in gathering youth opinions, this site is a goldmine. There are posts on everything from culture, science, healthcare, the economy, education, family, religion, gay rights, racism, relationships, TV, gender interactions, phobias, dreams, books, food, career goals, names for children...almost anything you could imagine. The average question receives 80-200 replies. Of course, the downside that I'll be citing in my methodology (due next Tuesday) is that we can't verify the location or the exact age of the posters. However, nearly all member pictures feature people who are obviously young (roughly 15-22 years old), most comments discuss issues common to those still under parental supervision, all questions and comments are posted in English, and most of them reference events that are happening in the US (e.g. the housing crisis, crossing into Canada for healthcare, Proposition 8, American presidents, etc.). Thus, I hope to get a sampling of attitudes held by American youth.
But if you're going to visit this site for your own research, be warned, because there's a lot of wacky stuff on it too--teens arguing over whether horoscopes are real (!), asking whether the Holocaust and World War II occurred during the same time period (!!), and posts asking why people with crooked teeth apparently kiss better than those with straight teeth.
I'm not making this up!