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The Death of the Digital Divide–Or a New One?

Is it premature to toll the bells for the death of the digital divide? I’ve been speaking to corporations and nonprofits for several years now, citing various statistics such as those found at eMarketer, which is a great source for demographic data and Internet usage. I always advocate to our clients that they first investigate how their target audience is actually behaving online rather than relying on assumptions that may be outdated and inaccurate. The results might surprise you. Web 2.0 means that this is not your mother’s Internet. The old rules don’t apply.

Is it premature to toll the bells for the death of the digital divide? I’ve been speaking to corporations and nonprofits for several years now, citing various statistics such as those found at eMarketer, which is a great source for demographic data and Internet usage. I always advocate to our clients that they first investigate how their target audience is actually behaving online rather than relying on assumptions that may be outdated and inaccurate. The results might surprise you. Web 2.0 means that this is not your mother’s Internet. The old rules don’t apply.

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According to Synovate’s 2008 study: Hispanics lag behind other groups in adopting online banking, with only 24% claiming to have paid monthly bills online recently compared to 38% of general market consumers and 34% of African-Americans. There’s not much distance between 34% and 38% statistically speaking and it’s clear that Hispanics are catching up fast.

Hispanic woman

The Pew Internet and American Life Center just released a report that garnered a lot of attention since it was published on July 22, 2009. The New York Times Bits Blog’s headline says it all:
“Mobile Internet Use Shrinks Digital Divide”
.

The report found that nearly half of all African-Americans and English-speaking Hispanics (the study did not include a Spanish-language option) were using mobile phones or other hand-held devices to surf the Web and send e-mail messages. By comparison, just 28 percent of white Americans reported ever going online using a mobile device.

Not only are African-Americans the most active users of mobile Internet, they are also the fastest growing group to adopt the technology: the percentage of African-Americans using mobile phones or another type of connected gadget to share e-mail, exchange instant messages and access the Internet for information on an average day has more than doubled since late 2007, jumping to 29 percent, from 12 percent.

Another Pew Internet study in June 2008 on the Internet and the election showed that, when you look at the percentage of all adults (Internet users and non-users) who look online for news and information about politics or the campaigns, Latinos (43%) actually exceed whites and blacks (even at 40%), with all groups experiencing big jumps in only 4 years. On the national stage, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign took advantage of the new online playing field to mobilize a multi-racial, multi-platform and very plugged-in group of supporters who went on to
motivate one of the largest voter turnouts in history.

At Fission, we hear from many nonprofit clients who want to emulate Obama’s historic campaign. To do this, we recommend thinking outside the box in terms of who’s online and how best to engage them. There’s still a digital divide, but it no longer operates on racial or ethnic lines but along urban proximity, educational, and income divisions.

Read more of Cheryl Contee’s Fission Strategy blog

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cheryl

Cheryl Contee is a partner and co-founder of the social media consultancy Fission Strategy where she specializes in online advocacy, engagement, and communications. Prior to launching Fission Strategy, Cheryl was Vice President at Fleishman-Hillard San Francisco where she acted as lead digital strategist for the West Coast, helping clients manage their brands and online campaigns. Before Fleishman-Hillard, Cheryl led the interactive team as Vice President at Washington, DC public affairs firm Issue Dynamics Inc. where she launched and led the group blog BloggerRelations.com. Previously, she was the Web Director for Oceana, an international marine conservation organization. Before Oceana, Ms. Contee launched 40 multi-lingual Web sites for Discovery Communications as Senior Producer for International Networks for television brands Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, Discovery Health, Discovery Kids, and more.

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