The Trend of Class, Race and Ethnicity in Social Media Inequality
Studies have shown that online participation varies with income. Of course, these inequalities in online participation may be reflected in other facets of civic life, from patterns of commerce to rates of political participation.
A 2012 study from the University of California, Berkeley, published in Information, Communications & Society, “The Trend of Class, Race and Ethnicity in Social Media Inequality,” analyzes rates of online participation — specifically blogging — among different demographic groups in the United States. The researcher examined 13 Pew Internet and American Life Project surveys conducted from 2002 to 2008 for the study.
The findings include:
- Across all groups, higher income was correlated with a greater likelihood of blogging, and rates of blogging declined significantly down the income scale. Rates of Internet connectivity — also associated with social class — are key variables in this trend.
- Approximately 9% of all Americans in 2008 reported having blogged at least once, while 3% reported having done so the day prior to the survey (suggesting frequency).
- “Although black Americans are less likely to be online than white Americans, among those online, blacks are more likely to blog than whites.” Controlling for differences in Internet access, the probability of blogging was 17% among African-Americans, compared to 9% among whites.
- “Hispanics are equally likely to blog than non-Hispanics. The only parity that emerges over the seven-year period is that Hispanics become just as likely to be online than their non-Hispanic counterparts.”
- The data suggest that the “digital divide is not improving for lower-educated blacks and Hispanics like it is for higher-educated blacks and Hispanics.”
“Questions remain as to whether or not the bloggers in the black community are reaching the mainstream,” the researchers state. “More likely, there is a silo effect, and they have a niche platform that is mostly confined to other African-Americans. Furthermore, since blacks are less likely than whites to consume online content, those blogs are less likely to reach the black working class…. African-Americans with less education and income are left out of the digital public sphere — not only is their voice barely audible but they are not hearing the wider range of voices that blogging allows.”
A related 2011 poll by the Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, “The Digital Divide: Hispanics Trail Other Groups in Web Usage, Confidence,” was less optimistic on Hispanics’ online participation. It found that 72% of those surveyed said they use the Internet at least occasionally, lower than the percentages of whites (87%) and blacks (80%). In addition, a 2012 Pew Internet & American Life Project survey found that Internet usage rates were 80% for whites; 71% for African-Americans; and 68% for Hispanics.
Tags: race, technology, Hispanic, Latino, African-American
Read the issue-related New York Times opinion piece titled "The New Digital Divide."
- What key insights from the study and op-ed should reporters be aware of as they cover digital media issues?
Read the full study titled“The Trend of Class, Race and Ethnicity in Social Media Inequality.”
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?