Expert Commentary

The trend of class, race and ethnicity in social media inequality

2012 study from University of California, Berkeley, published in Information, Communications & Society analyzing levels of blogging among different racial groups.

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

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