Many digital divides exist today both around the world and online, the most well-known one being the discrepancy between those who do and do not have access to the internet. However, digital divides exist even among people who have access to the internet. These divides can occur between different ages, races, political views, ideologies, and gender and have a huge impact on the experiences people have online and the divisiveness of online rhetoric😱.
Growing up in a relatively well off, suburban family, I have had access to the internet for virtually my entire life for the purposes of school, entertainment, and communication. This led me to assume that everyone had access to the internet, and it was not until I became older that I realized this was not true. Around 25 percent of American do not have a subscription to broadband internet, and around five billion people worldwide are digitally excluded (Hulegaard 3). Socioeconomic status and geographic location play huge roles in determining whether or not people can access the internet. Those who are at an economic disadvantage often do not have access to broadband internet and instead rely upon public libraries and cell phones to access the internet (Horrigan 7). Rural populations sometimes are not serviced by internet companies and might not be able to acquire broadband even if they can afford it (Scott para 2). These are issues that I did not have to deal with, and in fact, I was unaware even existed until recently. However, one aspect of the digital divide in terms of access that I have always been aware of was the divide between age groups. Older generations are less likely to access the internet than younger generations (Woyke para 2). As a digital native, I am proficient in using the internet since I grew up with it. I have noticed that it is much harder for my grandparents and even my parents to not only adopt the internet but also learn how to use it effectively. In fact, my grandparents only used the internet for email up until a few years ago. These digital divides in access to the internet based on age, location, and socioeconomic status are not new. However, being a digital native, it is easy to be oblivious to the problems that other people have in access and using the internet.
Just as troubling is that the internet, which has the power to bring people together, seems to be a tool for further separating us. I personally encounter divides on the internet that are based on my perceived and invented online identity. As a college-age, white, Texan male, certain ads, newspaper articles, and videos are targeted towards me based on what tech companies think a college-age, white, Texan male would like. These targeted experiences use this perceived identity of a person to help personalize the experiences of users on the internet and create more interest. However, they can also limit the scope of what people see on the internet and cut them off from other online communities. For example, I sometimes get ads for things that I have absolutely no interest in, such as UT baseball, because of my perceived online identity. In addition, I will get suggestions for ultra-conservative news outlets despite preferring to read more central-leaning, unbiased news. My invented online identity does follow some of the digital divides that exist online. As a male, I prefer to use Reddit as a social media platform😎. This is in line with the trend of more women using Pinterest and more men using Reddit (Vermeren para 9). In addition, like most young people, I use social media sites like Snapchat while older people use Facebook. These digital divides amongst social media cites based on age and gender can lead to separated groups and a more segregated society😢. I have always been aware of the confirmation bias and group polarization that exists online in terms of where people choose to get their news, but I was not aware that these can still occur among social media sites and through involuntary targeting based on perceived identities and internet activity.
Horrigan, John B. “Recent Tech Adoption Trends and Implications for the Digital Divide.” SSRN Electronic Journal, Aug. 2012, doi:10.2139/ssrn.2031755.
Hulegaard, David. “The Digital Divide: What Works and What Doesn’t.” Academia.
Scott, Mark. “How a British Telecoms Startup Is Bridging UK’s Rural Digital Divide.” POLITICO, POLITICO, 14 Feb. 2018, www.politico.eu/article/truespeed-digital-divide-europe-broadband-fiber-telecom-rural/.
Vermeren, Iris. “Men vs. Women: Who Is More Active on Social Media?” Brandwatch, Brandwatch, http://www.brandwatch.com/blog/men-vs-women-active-social-media/.
Woyke, Elizabeth. “Korea Bridges Digital Divide.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 19 June 2013, www.forbes.com/2009/04/02/internet-broadband-korea-technology-korea-09-broadband.html#329f1cf8187c.