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.

To permit a full engagement in society in terms of social, economic, cultural, personal and political well-being, three digital rights need to be guaranteed: digital access, digital competencies and digital empowerment. These three digital rights are intertwined with the three levels of the digital divide. To build a digitally inclusive society all citizens should have the right to have affordable technologies and reasonably priced broadband to access the digital realm. The first level of the digital divide could be bridged by attempting to include everyone in the digital arena. However, accessing the Internet, alone, is simply not enough to be digitally included. Citizens should also have proper training, digital skills, confidence and autonomy of use to confidently and safely go online. Digital inclusion initiatives should, therefore, promote digital competencies to include citizens that would otherwise miss important resources, services and opportunities. This addresses the second level of the digital divide by endeavouring to tackle digital inequalities based on different Internet usage and different digital literacy. Finally, digital empowerment, defined as the right to use technologies to enhance the social position of citizens, aims to reduce the third level of the digital divide. Digitally inclusive projects should also aim to enable citizens to use ICTs to improve their quality of life by improving the way in which they gain the most from ICTs. Since this level of the digital divide is entangled with already existing social inequalities in the social arena and embedded in the social structure, it is the most complicated to bridge and close. However, this is the very essence of the digital inclusion process since it is intended to enhance social inclusion through digital technologies and to reduce social inequalities by using ICTs.

Any attempt to tackle social inequalities with ICTs, needs to promote these three digital rights: digital access, digital competencies and digital empowerment. A digital inclusion strategy will have positive impacts on social inclusion only by giving everybody the possibility to access, use and gain advantages from ICTs.

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