The Digital Divide: Inequality in The Age Of The Internet

The Digital Divide Inequality In The Age Of The Internet Guest Blog The Equality Trust (1)This is my brief post for The Equality Trust. Social inequalities play a key role in information society, influencing citizens’ engagement in political, social, cultural and education life. Social inequalities influence the way in which individuals access, use and enjoy the benefits of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs), and the internet in particular.

Inequalities connected with the introduction of ICTs are intertwined with already existing social inequalities, in a circular and cumulative process. Groups slower in adopting the new technology will not always will be able to bridge the gap with the fastest, with the consequent growth of differential access and use. It is likely that over time the problem of the gap in access will tend to decrease. In the UK, for instance, more than 90% of population access the internet. However, at the same time, inequalities in using ICTs are increasing. Indeed, not all technological innovations are equal, since some citizens/users may have more capacity/skills/motivation/interest than others in accessing and using such technologies. As several studies have suggested, digital inequalities, in terms of political participation, healthcare and education, are entangled with already-existing social inequalities.

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Towards an inclusive digital society

CC9A9471.jpgIt has been a big honour for me to give a Keynote talk at the 10th International Media Readings in Moscow “Mass Media and Communications-2018“, 25-26 October 2018, Moscow.

Abstract: At the same time as granting many privileges to their users, the development of the information society has highlighted the existence of obstacles preventing certain social groups (people who are disadvantaged in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, location, income, education or disability) from accessing and properly using technologies. An exclusion from, or even partial access to, the digital realm has become a significant source of social inequality. Digital inclusive initiatives tend to promote the use of ICTs as a means to create social inclusion. Enhancing digital inclusivity means helping citizens to use ICTs to find the resources and services they need when they need them the most. The aim is to include everyone in society by having access to ICTs and the skills, knowledge and confidence to use them to benefit their everyday lives. To build a digitally inclusive society it is necessary to challenge the digital divide by helping citizens to access, use and get the most out of ICTs. These three elements—access, use and social benefits—correspond to the three levels of the digital divide, intended as an articulated and multifaceted phenomenon that encompasses variables other than simply access. Any attempt to foster inclusion in the digital realm needs to consider these three levels.

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Conceptualizing digital capital

telematics_and_informaticsMassimo Ragnedda (2018), Conceptualizing Digital Capital, Telematics and Informatics,

1. Introduction

This article makes a theoretical contribution by looking at the rise of digital capital and its relation to the already existent social, economic, personal, political and cultural capitals (the five capitals, 5Cs from now on). It specifically refers to the ways through which the interaction between the digital capital and the 5Cs generates inequalities in online experience (second level of digital divide), and how this new capital contributes towards the creation of the third level of digital divide, seen as the inequalities in the returning social benefits of using the Internet (van Deursen and Helsper, 2015Ragnedda, 2017). This paper will attempt to explain how, in order to make profitable the resources gained from the digital realm and transform them into social resources, individuals need a positive interrelation between the digital capital and social (Bourdieu, 1983Coleman, 1990Putnam, 1995), political (Syed and Whiteley, 1997), economic (Bourdieu, 1983), personal (Becker, 1996) and cultural capitals (Bourdieu, 1983). This interaction helps individuals to transform the digital resources into social resources and to exploit the full advantages offered by the Internet.

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Oxford Union Debate: “This house believes that open technology and standards have widened social injustice”

SpeakersIt has been an honor to be invited at the Oxford Union (12 September 2018) to be part of the debate “This house believes that open technology and standards have widened social injustice”.

The motion I supported was that open technology and standards have driven a revolution in the way that information is created, consumed, shared and commented upon. From medical advice to fake news, almost anything can be found, at any time, by anyone, wherever they may be. Many might assume that the free-flow of information has reinforced the three tenets of social justice: liberty, equality and fraternity. The Internet age has freed voices that weren’t previously heard, spread education and wealth, brought communities together.

But is there a darker side to the information revolution that has, in fact, widened social injustice? Has it created a divide between those who control information and those who consume it; between the young who understand the new technology and the old who don’t; between the rich who have access to the latest electronic gadgets and the poor who can’t afford to get connected online?

I articulated my speech in four main points: First, I argued that social and digital inequalities are intertwined (this was the leading motive of my speech). Second, following up on this point and I showed how and why the most advantaged people get the most out of the internet, therefor widening already existing social inequalities. Third, I stressed how being digitally excluded means being socially excluded, and being digitally excluded increases the possibilities people will become second-class and third-class citizens. Fourth, I underlined how inequalities are widening both at the micro (between individuals) and at the macro level, both in terms of global digital divide (4 billion people are excluded from the Internet) and in terms of growing consolidation of power, as the leading ICTs companies are gaining monopoly over the technologies they control.


Tackling Digital Exclusion: Counter Social Inequalities Through Digital Inclusion

Global agenda for social justiceMassimo Ragnedda (2018), Tackling Digital Exclusion Counter: Social Inequalities Through Digital Inclusion in G. Muschert et al (eds) Global Agenda for Social Justice, Polity Press, pp 151-157.


The Problem

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have granted many privileges to their users. At the same time, they have given rise to new and complex forms of exclusion affecting those already marginalized and disempowered. The development of the information society has highlighted the existence of obstacles preventing certain social groups from accessing and properly using technologies. This limited access and use of ICTs is defined as the “digital divide.” Those who are digitally included can more easily access services that impact positively on their health, occupation, education, and housing. Therefore, an exclusion from, or even partial access to, the digital realm has become a significant source of social inequality. However, accessing the internet, alone, is simply not enough to be digitally included. Indeed, it is also necessary to have the capacity to use, create, successfully navigate, and understand online content. These are the skills necessary to be a digitally literate individual once the technology is available. Digital literacy, therefore, indicates the ability to utilize digital infrastructure and not simply to access it. Digital inclusion, then, refers to the policies that will bridge the digital divide and support digital literacy. It tackles social inequalities by providing solutions for socially disadvantaged citizens to easily access and effectively use ICTs to improve their quality of life. This chapter will explain strategies that public, private, and voluntary sectors should follow to reduce digital exclusion and promote digital and social equity. These strategies are intended to ensure that people who are disadvantaged in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, location (urban or rural), or disability can access and enjoy the benefits of the information society. Digital inclusion initiatives are designed to give citizens the right access, skills, trust, and motivation to confidently go online. Digital inclusion projects aim to enhance the capacity to use ICTs in ways that promote engagement and well-being and, therefore, to counter social inequalities.

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Call for Chapters: Digital Inequalities in the Global South

dig inMy colleague Anna Gladkova and I (we are both vice chair of the Digital Divide Working Group, IAMRC) are editing a book on the topic “Digital Inequalities in the Global South”.

We are organizing an edited volume which will examine how digital inequalities are affecting the cultural, economic and social development of the Global South. Contributions are invited for this edited international collection of original chapters engaging empirical case studies on digital inequalities in the Global South.

The book will be submitted to Palgrave and if all goes well will be included into the IAMCR/Palgrave Global Transformations in Media and Communication Research (Palgrave and IAMCR Series).

Please see the attached Call for Chapter Proposals for details on the scope, timing, and mechanics of this project. Also, please feel welcome to post this call for papers widely and to forward it to interested colleagues and students. We hope to see some proposals from many of you, and for now, please feel welcome to be in contact if you have any questions for us.

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Elected as co-vice chair of the Digital Divide Working Group (IAMCR)

did-logo-optimalI am honoured and happy to be elected as co-vice chair of the Digital Divide Working Group of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR). The Digital Divide Working group was established in 1998. The main goal of this working group is to stimulate new theoretical approaches and empirical findings resulted from the research of digital inequality as a multi-dimensional phenomenon influencing various aspects of social life in different countries

The Digital Divide Working Group aims at providing a forum for scholars researching various aspects of digital inequality across the world.

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