Digital Divides and the
Widening Gaps in Social Media

Today, as we enter the 21st century, humans are increasingly dependent on digital technologies in almost every field of work. Of the many types of technology, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) such as computer hardware and software applications, mobile phones, the Internet and so on are probably the most indispensable category (Social Media, 2011). We need these tools for our work, social and personal lives (Johnstone, 2016) and they are applied across all areas of knowledge and activity, be they economic, political, social and so on (Castells, n.d.). Despite how important they are, not everyone in the world has access to ICT technology. There is still all the so-called “digital divide” around the world.

The digital divide refers to the differences in people’s access to and ability to use digital products in different living environments, economies and races (Rouse, 2014). Especially the gap between the poor, the rural people, the elderly and the disabled. This essay will explore the different divides and the rich, the middle class and the young who live in cities and suburbs (Digital Divide, n.d.) and will also focus on social media divided because of how influential it is in today’s society and argues that it makes us more distant from other people.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The Many Division Around Us

We all know that there are many divisions in the world, whether it is the economic divide between countries, or some familiar gender divide and race divide, a division can be said to be ubiquitous. But do you actually know why these divisions exist? Due to the development progress is not the same between every country and region, which caused many ways of the gap between them, such as the hot topic in these few decades, digital divide. The digital divide can also be divided into many different categories depending on different experts and research, some of the main ones are Social Media Divide and Universal Access Divide (Steele, 2019). Some countries still having a huge gap with others in terms of technology and network construction, even making some nations, even more, easier to cyber threats. It especially the gap between developing countries and developed countries (Internet Society, n.d.).

It is important to understand what the digital divide and universal access divide represents because this division is pretty important and pays more attention to in today’s society. In this regard, we can learn more about the HCI (human-computer interaction), and the relative impact through the study of it. Universal accessibility is actually a derivative of the digital divide. It’s basically a program to bring people with disabilities into the network. Universal accessibility is a design concept that has only been developed in recent decades to avoid excluding people with disabilities from the use of information and communication technologies (ICT). As we all know, the problem of disabled people being excluded has been in our society for a long time, and people with disabilities often need some special equipment, such as buttons, special keyboards or screen reader as auxiliary devices for the normal use of certain electronic devices (Julio, Barbosa, Nicolle and Zaphiris, 2015). Among them, a mobile phone is a relatively common electronic device. Compared with other electronic devices such as computers and tablet computers, the mobile phone can be said to be the most convenient and easy to operate electronic communication device. Some companies have introduced specially for disabled people use mobile phones, these mobile phones usually have some characteristics, like a larger keypad or uncluttered display screen and so on, is to make it easier for people with disabilities to operate (National Disability Authority, n.d.).

When it comes to mobile phones, with the increasing popularity of it, people usually spend a lot of time using mobile phones every day. In addition to ordinary communication functions, most people use mobile phones to use social media. In today’s society, having a social media account is part of people’s social interaction. As much social media has bought billions of users closer together through is very easy to use interface and wide held modes of communication, there is also growing concern that it may foster divisions in society. Social media, as one of the subsets in new media, has brought a lot of benefits and convenience to people. According to a survey, there are many reasons why people post pictures or posts on social media, such as food bloggers sharing recipes or interact with other like-minded people. But it also creates a kind of competition mentality. People start to compare themselves with others, and they care about how their works are different from others, or how many of the views and how they react to them (Kozinets, 2017). Unconsciously, people will divide themselves from others, which will lose the purpose of social media in the first place.

Social Media Divisions and Filter Bubbles

According to the survey of We Are Social, in 2019, the number of social media users in the world is as high as 3.484 billion (Chaffey, 2019). This striking statistic is also contributing to many of the effects of social media, such as the previously mentioned social media divide. So, with the development of technology and social media, that means that there will be more and more problems. People are using social media for several purposes, there are four main uses of it, SLIM, which are sharing, learning, interacting and marketing (Thoughtful Learning, n.d.), In social media, every user can share any information, whether it is to share their photos, words or ideas with other users, or to forward others’ interesting posts. This is one of the reasons why social media can be so appealing to us because it allows us to find many of the same interests (Nat & Marie, n.d.). Nowadays, most people use the Internet to search for information. The online newspaper is also becoming more popular, their content not much different from traditional media such as newspapers or television news, but much faster. If there is an emergency case today, people are often looking it up online, especially on social media. In addition to news and information, we can also get an update about our friends or family members through social media quickly. So, in some ways, social media can also be a personal learning tool.

Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

One of the reasons for the popularity of social media is that they can easily interact with other users. In the past, due to the influence of distance and time, people could not keep in touch with other people all the time, and they would miss a lot of important information. Today, people can easily use social media to interact with others. For example, users can communicate with friends or family members through Facebook, view their posts, like and leave comments. Or online chat apps like Skype and Google Hangouts, where users can chat with other people in person anytime, anywhere. The last one, which is very common today, is used for marketing purposes. More and more companies are turning their campaigns to social media, which they think social media is a better and bigger platform to reach more consumers (Thoughtful Learning, n.d.).

There are many advantages of using social media, but we all know that everything has its pros and cons. The divisive issue of social media that we have to face today is not just the spreading of rumours as mentioned earlier, but something more serious, which will have more impact on the society and even the country. An example would be accusations of Facebook being used to cause social fragmentations and political controversies (Bene and Hern, 2017). According to the data shows that Facebook has 2.38 billion of users, is also the biggest in the world of social media platforms (Ospina, 2019), if it is like said before, it will cause social fragmentations and political controversies, it would be a huge influence. In recent years, there has been a debate over how Russians use social media to divide Americans. The focus on how Americans are being disrupted and divided by the social media began after a Russian actor used Facebook to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election. According to the Daily Beast, Russians use fake accounts to spread false information on Facebook or use social media to promote political issues in the United States, such as Black Lives Matter and religion-related rifts (McCabe and Fischer, 2017). Facebook has since confirmed that pages linked to Russia bought thousands of ads on its platform, which has had an irreparable impact on Americans (McCarthy, n.d.). From this case, we can know how serious the division problem brought by social media is, which has already affected the relations between countries.

The wrong use of social media will lead to all kinds of unnecessary divisive issues, and in addition to the divisive issues among users, there may also be national political issues as mentioned. A Rasmussen Reports finds that 65% of Likely U.S. Voters think social media like Facebook and Twitter make them a more divided nation and about 18% of people don’t think social media makes the country less divided. Of those, only 8% thought social media would make the country less divided (Rasmussen Report, 2019). From this data, we can know that the influence of social media on a country is obvious to all. As mentioned above, it is not difficult to find that social media mainly categorizes users’ preferences and habits. Information filtering is often what we see on social media. These so-called “filter bubbles” does not show the other message, and display only the information users want to see, thus to separate different aspects of the message (Allred, 2018). Everyone has different ideas about things, which can lead to more unity among people who have the same idea or even to fight against or oppose people who have other ideas. At this point, there’s a phenomenon called “social proof”. Social proof is a psychological and social phenomenon. People will try to follow other people’s behaviour in some situations, such as people often do not know how to identify between true and false when there are many different ways of saying a thing (McCabe and Fischer, 2017). At such times, people will choose to trust the choices of the masses, just like the users with 100,000 followers on Instagram are more trustworthy than the users with 100 followers. Many users also tend to follow their friends, family members and even idols. At this time, we can know how much influence the Internet has brought, which is also known as network effect (Kodagi, 2017). This raises the question of whether the new media communication is reinforcing divisions or helping to reconnect. In the part of the social divide, users with the same interest will set up a community through some social media platforms, which will be used as a medium for communication (Steele, 2019). Besides, social media may also be used to spread fake news, which may cause serious negative social impact. As a result, how to identify fake news on social media has become a hot topic recently (Shu and Liu, 2019).

Conclusion

In general, although this topic is still controversial and will be discussed all the time, what cannot be avoided and prevented is the way users use to browse social media. We can choose to use social media in the right way, such as learning how to communicate with other users online, instead of promoting our own ideas (Allred, 2018). or before releasing and forwarding any news, make sure the reliability of the information, if everyone spreading wrong information casually, will bring unimaginable consequences. The 2016 presidential election, as mentioned earlier, is a good example. We need to be aware that messages on social media or any online platform can be incorrect and misleading. It will have unimaginable consequences if users are not noticed this issue. In response, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced a plan to crush fake news. Of course, given the reach and scale of social media today, it’s impossible to eliminate all disinformation. The only thing we can do is to minimize the impact (Force, 2016). And that’s just one of the reasons people are getting further apart, knowing that there are likely to be more differences or more serious impacts in the future.

References

Booth, C. (2019). The most popular social media networks each year, gloriously animated. [online] The Next Web. Available at: https://thenextweb.com/tech/2019/06/11/most-popular-social-media-networks-year-animated/ [Accessed 19 Jan 2020].

Digital Technologies & Education. (2014). What’s The Difference Between ICT Capabilities & the Digital Technologies Learning Area?. [online] Available at: https://digitaltecheducation.weebly.com/bits--bytes-blog/whats-the-difference-between-ict-capabilities-digital-technologies-learning-area [Accessed 19 Jan 2020].

Forbes.com. (2019). Does Social Media Make The Political Divide Worse?. [online] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/petersuciu/2019/10/30/does-social-media-make-the-political-divide-worse/#5733e8d26e3a [Accessed 19 Jan 2020].

Our World in Data. (2019). Number of people using social media platforms. [online] Available at: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/users-by-social-media-platform?country=Facebook+Instagram+MySpace+Pinterest+Reddit+Snapchat+TikTok+Tumblr+Twitter+WeChat+Whatsapp+YouTube [Accessed 19 Jan 2020].

Otto, A. (2012). ‘Digital Vertigo’: How social media divide us | MinnPost. [online] MinnPost. Available at: https://www.minnpost.com/books/2012/05/digital-vertigo-how-social-media-divide-us/ [Accessed 19 Jan 2020].

SearchCIO. (n.d.). What is ICT (Information and Communications Technology)?. [online] Available at: https://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/ICT-information-and-communications-technology-or-technologies [Accessed 19 Jan 2020].

Skandul, E. (2019). Inequality is a notification we see every time we scroll through our news feed. [online] Quartz. Available at: https://qz.com/1620935/social-media-has-made-the-digital-divide-and-inequality-more-visible/ [Accessed 19 Jan 2020].

The Aspen Institute. (2017). How Social Media Divides Us — The Aspen Institute. [online] Available at: https://www.aspeninstitute.org/blog-posts/social-media-divides-us/ [Accessed 19 Jan 2020].

UNESCO. (n.d.). The Asian Digital Revolution: Transforming the Digital Divide into a Dividend through Universal Access. [online] Available at: https://en.unesco.org/the-asian-digital-revolution [Accessed 19 Jan 2020].

U.S. (2018). Russia used social media for widespread meddling in U.S. politics: reports. [online] Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-russia-socialmedia/russia-used-social-media-for-widespread-meddling-in-u-s-politics-reports-idUSKBN1OG257 [Accessed 19 Jan 2020].

Usatoday.com. (2019). [online] Available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/01/04/russians-social-media-divide-meddling-laws-election-2016-column/2463253002/ [Accessed 19 Jan 2020].

Bibliography

Allred, K. (2018). The Causes and Effects of “Filter Bubbles” and how to Break Free. [online] Available at: https://medium.com/@10797952/the-causes-and-effects-of-filter-bubbles-and-how-to-break-free-df6c5cbf919f [Accessed 7 Feb 2020].

Bene, M. (2017). Influenced by Peers: Facebook as an Information Source for Young People — Marton Bene, 2017. [online] Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2056305117716273 [Accessed 7 Feb 2020].

Castells, M. (n.d.). The Impact of the Internet on Society: A Global Perspective. [online] Available at: https://www.bbvaopenmind.com/en/articles/the-impact-of-the-internet-on-society-a-global-perspective/ [Accessed 7 Feb 2020].

Chaffey, D. (2019). Global Social Media Research Summary 2019. [online] Available at: https://www.smartinsights.com/social-media-marketing/social-media-strategy/new-global-social-media-research/ [Accessed 7 Feb 2020].

Digital Divide. (n.d.). Digital Divide? [online] Available at: https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs181/projects/digital-divide/start.html[Accessed 7 Feb 2020].

Force, J. (2016). The Impact of Social Media Networks on Society. [online] Available at: https://sysomos.com/2016/12/22/impact-social-media-networks-society/ [Accessed 7 Feb 2020].

Hern, A. (2017). Facebook and Twitter are being used to manipulate public opinion — report. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/19/social-media-proganda-manipulating-public-opinion-bots-accounts-facebook-twitter [Accessed 7 Feb 2020].

Internet Society. (n.d.). Digital Divide. [online] Available at: https://future.internetsociety.org/2017/introduction-drivers-of-change-areas-of-impact/areas-of-impact/digital-divides/ [Accessed 7 Feb 2020].

Johnstone, A. (2016). Digital and ICT — Same, Same but Different? [online] Available at: https://anikajohnstone.com/2016/03/09/digital-and-ict-same-same-but-different/ [Accessed 7 Feb 2020].

Julio, A., Barbosa, S., Nicolle, C. and Zaphiris, P. (2015). Rethinking Universal Accessibility: A Broader Approach Considering the Digital Gap. [online] Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10209-015-0416-1 [Accessed 7 Feb 2020].

Kodagi, S. (2017). How Social Media is Dividing Us Instead of Uniting Us. [online] Available at: https://blog.politicsmeanspolitics.com/how-social-media-is-dividing-us-instead-of-uniting-us-9b7f6c7f89cb [Accessed 7 Feb 2020].

Kozinets, R. (2017). Americans are more Divided than ever before. [online] Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5089893/How-social-media-builds-extremist-partisan-divisions.html [Accessed 7 Feb 2020].

Bridget here. A digital media designer who always exploring a variety of creative styles. I am passionate about any whimsy and simple cute things.