From Social to Digital Inequalities

13435300_10208296440186711_365484049517279225_nFrom Social to Digital Inequalities, paper presented at Intercom Comunicação, San Paulo, Brazil (18 June 2016).

Digital communication plays a key role in the process of the structuring of contemporary society, and may result in the emergence of new forms of social exclusion linked to digital inequalities. The digital divide is a form of social and digital exclusion which depends not only on technological, demographic and geographical factors, but also on economic, cultural and social circumstances associated with social structure. All these factors influence not only the use of the Internet, but also its cultural evolution and structure. The digital divide is a “moving target” that changes over time due to the diffusion of technological innovation; it therefore needs to be constantly redefined using more appropriate operational indicators. The Internet is a space that provides power for the growth of knowledge as a common good. The network structure is independent of the borders of the various states and has the potential to connect all the inhabitants of the earth, reducing disparities of all kinds. However, despite these unique qualities, many obstacles prevent their full integration. Diversified and unequal access to the Internet can create new forms of social segregation, which in turn generate communities based on weak ties (Ancu and Cozna, 2009; Baumgartner and Morris, 2010; Kraut et al., 1998; Withe, 2010, 2010; Gladwell, 2010; Fenton and Barassi, 2011). Inclusion and exclusion from the network society are based on the capabilities of technological devices (hardware and software), length and amount of Internet use, resources (mostly intangible) conveyed by the networks, digital skills, and online activities (DiMaggio et al., 2004; Hargittai and Hinnant, 2008; Howard et al., 2001; Van Dijk and Van Deursen, 2014). Van Dijk (2005: 166-177) identifies participation and social inclusion as the most important factors in combatting digital inequalities. In a network society where the new media are acquiring an increasingly important role in the acquisition of benefits and the competition between individuals, conventional electronic media and other traditional forms of communication will become less and less sufficient to allow full participation in each of these areas, while the use of the Internet will become ever more vital.


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