[BigDataSur-COVID] COVID-19 in the UK: The Exacerbation of Inequality and a Digitally-Based Response

Authors: Massimo Ragnedda and Maria Laura Ruiu

Big Data from the South

The COVID-19 crisis has been shown to highlight existing forms of socio-economic inequality across the world’s Souths. This article illustrates the reinforcement of such inequalities in the United Kingdom, showing the heightened vulnerability of minorities and marginalised citizens and proposing a response based on tackling digital inequalities.

The consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak in social, economic, psychological and health terms, are still under evaluation as the effects of the containment measures could last for years. However, something seems to be quite clear: vulnerable people and vulnerable communities are those who suffer the most from this outbreak. This is not surprising, since both social and medical studies have repeatedly shown an interaction between social environment and health status.

In this article, we specifically focus on the UK (even though similar arguments could be applied to other countries in the Global North) where some social groups are suffering more than others from the outbreak. Black, Asian or minority ethnic background (BAME communities) and elderly and marginalized citizens are affected the most by the pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has, indeed, triggered inequality by exposing more vulnerable groups to higher risks of experiencing the most severe symptoms of the disease.

Continue reading “[BigDataSur-COVID] COVID-19 in the UK: The Exacerbation of Inequality and a Digitally-Based Response”

Keynote Talk at the Foundation University of Islamabad: a few takeaways

It has been a great pleasure to be invited by the Foundation University of Islamabad to give a keynote talk (albeit virtual) about Digital Divide. The event has been moderated and coordinated by Dr. Sadia Jamil (Khalifa University) and Dr Shabbir Hussain (Bharia University, Islamabad) introduced the phenomenon of Digital Divide in Pakistan. It was pleasure see participants from Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

In my talk, I emphasised how access to, and use of ICT is a new civil right: an essential necessity to be a full citizen. In fact, an insufficient and unequal access to the Internet can create new forms of social segregation that exacerbate already existing social inequalities. In a digital-reliant society being excluded from the digital realm means missing opportunities to improve one’s quality of life.

Throughout my talk I underlined several times how the advent of ICTs have granted many privileges to their users, but have also given rise to complex forms of exclusion affecting those already marginalized. We focused on the obstacles that prevent certain social groups from accessing and properly using technologies. This limited access and use of ICTs is defined as the “Digital Divide”. The metaphor of the digital divide suggested a division between two dichotomous groups that can be clearly determined. However, it is possible to observe different degrees of e-inclusion and use of ICTs.

For this reason, I focused on the three levels of Digital Divide, namely i) Inequalities in Accessing ICTs; ii) Inequalities in Usages and iii) Inequalities in Outcomes of Internet Access and Uses.

I concluded by emphasizing that accessing the internet, alone, is simply not enough to be digitally included. It is also necessary to have the capacity to create, successfully navigate, understand online content and use ICTs to improve their life chances.

Citizens need the ability to utilize digital infrastructure and not simply to access it.

CfP: Digital Sustainability


Digital Policy, Regulation and Governance

Special Thematic Issue on Digital Sustainability

Abstracts Due     15 August 2020

Scholars are invited to submit abstracts for a special issue on the theme Digital Sustainability, guest edited by Dr. Massimo Ragnedda (Northumbria University, UK) and Prof. Dr. Glenn Muschert (Khalifa University of Science & Technology, UAE). Submissions will be peer reviewed and considered for publication in a special issue on the theme commissioned by Emerald Publishing’s peer-reviewed journal Digital Policy, Regulation and Governance.

SPECIAL ISSUE THEME: The special issue theme is “Digital Sustainability.” The decade of the 2020s is simultaneously the age of digital transformation and the time in which humanity has established a coherent set of sustainability goals to be achieved by 2030, namely the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). What is less commonly discussed is the role that digital technologies, digital skills, and digital social life will play in the pursuit and maintenance of a sustainable future. This special issue offers a forum for that conversation to develop, as a venue in which social scientists, STS scholars, and other digital scholars can explore the concept of digital sustainability with an eye toward establishing a conceptual framework for defining and theorizing digital sustainability, for studying and assessing digital sustainability, and for plotting out applied methodologies for implementing principles of digital sustainability in real, augmented, and virtual spheres. Thus, this special issue on digital sustainability will open up new scholarly and applied conversations regarding precisely the intersection between digital aspects of human life and wider sustainability concerns for humanity and the planet.

Lecture series in Media and Communication studies. Manipal Institute of Communication

As part of the Lecturer Series in Media and Communication Studies, organized by Manipal Institute of Communication (India), I have been invited to give a talk on the concept of Digital Capital.

This talk contributed both theoretically and empirically to the literature by (a) consolidating the concept of Digital Capital as a specific capital, and (b) empirically measuring it. It adopts a holistic variable (digital capital), conceived and measured as a specific capital and which is comprehensive of a number of aspects related to both digital competences and digital devices. In this lesson, I underlined how the level of digital capital that person possesses influences the quality of the Internet experience and In turn, and how it may be “converted” into other forms of capital and reinvested in the social sphere to enhance social position. Moreover, I stressed how the interaction between digital capital and the other forms of capitals (personal, economic, social, political and cultural) generates outcomes not only in terms of types and quality of online activities, but also in terms of benefits or tangible outcomes. Digital capital, therefore, is a mediating capital that plays a vital role in transforming previous offline capitals into digital activities and, in turn, in transforming these activities into other capitals.

I concluded outlining how Digital Capital is intertwined with the “traditional axes” of social inequalities and how the model to measure it can be used and applied in other contexts.

Exploring Digital Inequalities in Russia: an interregional comparative analysis

Gladkova, Anna & Ragnedda, Massimo (2020), Exploring Digital Inequalities in Russia: an interregional comparative analysis, Online Information Review, DOI (10.1108/OIR-04-2019-0121)

Abstract: This paper contributes to the literature by proposing an analysis of digital inequalities in Russia that focuses on two aspects hitherto under explored: the inter-regionality (by comparing and contrasting eight federal districts) and the multidimensionality of digital inequalities (by taking into account the three levels of digital divide). Therefore, the aim is to address the phenomenon of digital divide in Russia by discussing the three levels of the digital divide (access / skills / benefits) in a comparative and interregional perspective.

This paper uses secondary data for its analysis, including both national (e.g. the total number of daily Internet users in Russia) and more regionalized data (related to particular federal districts of Russia). The choice of data sources was determined by an attempt to provide a detailed and multifaceted coverage of all three levels of the digital divide in Russia, which is not limited to the access problem only. For this purpose, we are using and re-elaborating various reports about the development of the Internet and ICTs in Russia prepared by national and international organizations to cover the first level of the digital divide. To shed light upon the second and third levels of the digital divide, we discuss digital literacy report (2018), the report on Internet openness index of Russian regions (2017), and the report on the digital life index of the Russian regions (2016). Finally, in the attempt to map out the key directions of the state policy aimed at decreasing digital inequality in Russia, on both federal and regional levels, we analyze the most important regional and national policy measures to foster digitalization such as the Digital Russia program, the Digital Government program, the Program of Eliminating Digital Inequality in Russia.

We consider this study to be both a first exploration and a baseline of the three level digital divides in Russia. The paper shows how the level of socioeconomic development of the federal districts, as well as a number of objective factors (distance/isolation, urbanization level, availability of infrastructure and costs for building new infrastructure, etc.) have impact upon digitalization of the regions. As a result, several federal districts of Russia (Central, Northwestern, and, in a number of cases, Ural and Volga federal districts) more often than others take leading positions in rankings, in terms of degree of Internet penetration, audience numbers, use of e-services, etc. This correlation however is not universal as we will show, and some regions lacking behind in terms of access can be booming in terms of digital literacy or other factors, like it happened with Far Eastern federal district for example. All in all, our research showed that digital inequality in Russia is still on place and will require more time for complete elimination, even though current state and public initiatives are being actively developed.

This paper will bring to light meaningful insights into the three levels of digital divides in Russia. Based on a multilevel (three levels of digital divide) and multi-sectional approach (the interplay of different types of inequalities), this paper contributed to overall better understanding of the digital inequalities phenomenon in Russia. It also allowed for a comparative interregional perspective, which has been missing in most papers on digital inequalities in Russia so far.

Read the Author Accepted Manuscript

Reconceptualising the digital divide

Mapping the Digital Divide in AfricaRagnedda, M. (2019). Reconceptualising the digital divide. In Mutsvairo, B., and Ragnedda, M., (2019) (eds)., Mapping the Digital Divide in Africa. A mediated Analysis. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp. 27-43.


The term “digital divide” emerged in the 1990s to define inequalities in access to the Information Communication Technologies (ICTs), framing it as a matter of having or not having access to ICTs (Compaine 2001). The firsts empirical researches have shown how some specific socio-demographic variables, such as employment status, income, education level, geographic location, ethnicity, age, gender and family structure, influenced the access to the ICTs, creating a digital gap or divide among citizens (domestic digital divide) or countries (global digital divide). Such inequalities have widened during the years, despite the fact that the World Summit on the Information Society, held in Geneva (2003) and then in Tunis (2005) has stressed the idea that no one should be left out from the benefits offered by the information society. The importance of the Internet as a pre-requisite for economic and social development, has been further stressed by the United Nations in 2015 when the Internet has been included among its goals for resolving the most persistent social and economic challenges of our time (UN, 2015: 15). Indeed, in a digital enabled society, part of the human activities depends on how we access, generate and process information. It is then worth asking how the phenomenon of digital divide and digital inequalities has been approached and analysed by both scholars and policy makers and how such approach has changed over the years. Hence, the aim of this chapter is to discuss the change of perspectives in analysing and attempting to bridge the digital divide, and reconceptualise this concept by offering a nuanced theoretical approach to analyses the rise and persistence of digital inequalities.

Continue reading “Reconceptualising the digital divide”

The evolving digital divide: from the first to the third level

emeraldIn this blog written for the Real Impact blog @massimoragnedda  and @marialauraruiu  discuss the inequalities in accessing and using technology

The rise of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) was seen at the beginning as an opportunity for freedom of information, and to level up existing inequalities (Rheingold, 1993; Negroponte, 1995). However, scholars realized soon that access to ICTs would give an advantage to specific citizens/users (Resnick, 1998; Hargittai, 2000). The term “digital divide” emerged to describe inequalities in access to the technologies of the information society. At the early stage of research on the digital divide, access to the Internet and ownership of ICTs was seen both by scholars and by policy makers as the most crucial factor. The possibilities for an individual to access and use the Internet are at the base of the first level of digital divide.

Moving beyond access….

Nevertheless, access to the Internet alone cannot determine how much value users gain from the Internet and, therefore, this dichotomy of “haves” and “have nots” is ineffective to describe a phenomenon that is no longer based only on the possession of technology or simple access to it. After the fading of the initial euphoria surrounding the rise of ICTs, it become clear that users with more information skills, more resources, and more social and economic capital would gain greater advantages than others. These digital inequalities opened up new dimensions of social segmentation, interwoven with traditional cultural and social inequalities and potentially reinforcing them. Digital divide started to be seen as a phenomenon relating to complex issues that involve all aspects of community life, in economic, political, cultural and social arenas.

We have moved from the first level of digital divide (mainly based on access to the Internet) to a more sophisticated and multidimensional second level (based on the disparities in computer and Internet use). Skills, competence and abilities to use the Internet have become more important than even. Not only the material access to the Internet is taken into consideration, but also the different uses of it. Recently a new approach defined as the third level of digital divide emerged (Ragnedda 2017). It focuses on the social and cultural benefits deriving from accessing and using the Internet. It analyses the offline returns of accessing and using digital technologies, attempting to understand who gains the most advantage from the Internet (van Deursen and Helsper 2015).

How do we close the divide?

Accessing and properly using ICTs constitutes a new civic right. Narrowing the uneven distribution in the access to, use of, or impact of ICTs between individuals, must be ranked as one of the top human rights priority. The possibilities that the Internet offers to citizens in economic, political, social and cultural areas are not exploited by everybody in the same way. The Internet influences possibilities for citizens to improve their life chances, but in a vicious circle, based on their original social position. In other terms, social strata that already enjoy social advantages become further privileged by using the Internet.

The different uses we make of the Internet lead to completely different roles of the network in people’s lives. Socio-economic and cultural backgrounds affect the access to and the use of the Internet (first and second level) and that this online experience influences people’s life chances and the opportunities they have in the offline world (third level). Digital inequalities, therefore, tend not only to reinforce social inequalities already existing in the offline society, but also to enlarge the gap between the less advantaged and the most advantaged individuals. Social strata that in the social realm tend to obtain more valuable resources are the same that tend to exploit ICTs most advantageously.

Massimo Ragnedda and Maria Laura Ruiu examine how digital capital can be defined, measured and impact policy in their recently published book Digital Capital: A Bourdieusian Perspective on the Digital Divide. Find out more here.

Distributed Pool Mining and Digital Inequalities. From Cryptocurrency to Scientific Research

JECESAuthor Accepted Manuscript (AAM) 

Hanna Kreitem and Massimo Ragnedda (2020). Distributed Pool Mining and Digital Inequalities. From Cryptocurrency to Scientific Research, in Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society



This article ventures to explore the dynamic relations between consumption and production in novel technologies that utilise end-user computing resources, as an implementation of distributed computing and alternative of attention economy, and the promises and opportunities it provides from the perspective of digital inequalities to promote dialogue on the social aspects of distributed technologies. The discussion flows from setting the scene on digital inequalities in the age of widespread access to discussing distributed computing and later to examining cases of distributed computing provided by the masses of users and the promises of opportunities it offers. The cases were selected to represent different applications of distributed computing, including cryptocurrency distributed mining and contribution to scientific research. Finally, the article compiles lessons learned from the cases studied into a suggested model for a fair revenue model for content and online service providers that utilises user device computing resources, or computational power, rather than their data and attention.

Relations between content providers and consumers have changed dramatically since the inception of the Internet (Yuan et al., 1998). The relationship has shifted from an equal peer-to-peer network, to a more centralised and clearly defined dichotomy of content providers and content consumers or audience (Randall, 1997). In the second stage, Internet users started using the web as a means to share their own content production, in what was termed Web 2.0 (O’Reilly, 2005), with a plethora of platforms and services facilitating that (Constantinides and Fountain, 2008). The advent of Web 2.0 reshaped network power relations and gave user generated content an important value and power in driving Internet use, such as content genereted by users, and data generated about the users, as is the case with social media platforms (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010).


Full article here. Distributed pool mining. From Cryptocurrency to Scientific Research Please note that this article has been accepted for publication and undergone full peer review but has not been through the copyediting, typesetting, pagination and proofreading process which may lead to differences between this version and the Version of Record.

Digital divide and digital capital in multiethnic Russian society

MulticulturalGladkova, A., Vartanova, E., Ragnedda, M. (2020), Digital divide and digital capital in multiethnic Russian society, Journal of Multicultural Discourses, https://doi.org/10.1080/17447143.2020.1745212

Abstract: The paper draws linkages between ethnic diversity of the eight federal districts of Russia and their technological development (access and use of ICTs, digital literacy, etc.). We show that although there is no universal correlation between ethnic composition of the regions and the level of their technological advancement, regions where Russians constitute the majority (i.e. Central and Northwestern) more often tend to be the country’s leaders in terms of technological development. Following up on this, we use purposive sample of 398 Internet users based in Russia, showing how the level of digital capital of users varies depending on their ethnicity (here we will distinguish between two large groups – Russians and non-Russians, based on self-identification of survey participants) and their place of living. Results of the digital capital study, despite being indicative, show that those belonging to the ethnic majority (in our case Russians) and those living in big cities tend to have a higher level of digital capital.

We argue that although ethnicity solely does not define the level of users’ digital capital, it is still an important and understudied issue. This is particularly true for big multiethnic societies, such as the Russian society, where digital divide across various groups and regions remains a serious problem.

Reducing and Preventing Digital Discrimination: Digital Inclusion Strategies in Europe (Chapter)

Digital inclusion. An internationalMassimo Ragnedda (2018), Reducing and Preventing Digital Discrimination: Digital Inclusion Strategies in Europe, In Ragnedda, M., and Mutsvairo, B. (eds) Digital Inclusion. An International Comparative Analyses, London: Lexington Book, pp. 3-18.


The advent of the Internet has brought changes to citizen’s lives, influencing the patterns and practices of everyday life. It is clear that the growth of the information society has revolutionized the way in which citizens work, learn and socialize. However, it seems that some scholars (Dyson 1997; Gilder 1990, 2000; Kelly 1998; Negroponte 1995; Toffler 1970, 1980; Turner 2006;) have often overemphasized the benefits and the positive aspects brought by new technologies of communication. These digital prophets, defined by Slouka (1995: 8) as techno-evangelists, have a hyper-positive vision of the Internet and see it as a panacea for all social issues. This position does not take into consideration issues related to unequal access and the use of digital technologies. For this reason, it is important to also analyse the obstacles and barriers that prevent individuals, and certain social groups, from accessing and properly using technologies. These obstacles are at the base of digital inequalities, both between different regions of the world and within wealthy and prosperous areas. There are, indeed, clear differences in terms of Internet usage and digital skills within the same area (Brandtzæg 2010; Selwyn 2004; Van Dijk 2005).

Continue reading “Reducing and Preventing Digital Discrimination: Digital Inclusion Strategies in Europe (Chapter)”