Digital Divide

At the beginning of the 21st century, the digital divide referred to the gap between individuals in the population who had regular access to computers and those who did not. In the mid-1990s, there was a call for greater access to computers and online services in public schools and libraries, with the goal of bridging the digital divide. After the call went out to address the disparity in access among schools, institutions across wealthier areas increased the number of computers available to students; over time, schools in poorer areas also increased the numbers of computers available to students, and now access to the Internet has reached an all-time high within the larger population. As the gap between those with access to the Internet and those without has narrowed, the definition of the digital divide has changed to reflect the ongoing gaps in knowledge and skills due to the increasing complexity of technology. This newly defined knowledge- and skills-based divide has lasting effects on one’s ability to secure and protect one’s privacy online.

Individuals who have more computer and Internet experience are more likely to engage in positive security behaviors. Positive security behaviors include effectively using firewalls, encryption, spam filters, and pop-up window blockers. Other positive security behaviors include the use of strong passwords, not reusing passwords on various websites, backing up files, and careful use of file-sharing software. Overall, engaging in positive security behaviors can help reduce an individual’s risk of having his or her personal information accessed by an unwanted third party.

The sharing of personal information on social media websites such as Facebook poses concerns with regard to the knowledge-based digital divide. Some social media users may not understand that the information they share online may be public, or they may not know how to adjust the privacy settings of their accounts. Users need to be properly informed in order to able to weigh the benefits of sharing information against the potential intrusion of their privacy.

Possessing the knowledge and skills to protect personal information is becoming increasingly important as more users are now using computers more often than ever before. Schools and libraries have made great strides in attempting to close the digital divide by providing greater access to computer technology; however, accessibility alone does not create a well-informed public who are able to secure their private information. Teaching computer literacy and information security skills may help close the knowledge- and skills-based gaps of the newly defined digital divide.

Chastity Blankenship

See also Computer Surveillance ; Cybersecurity Legislation ; Privacy, Internet

Further Readings

Debatin, Bernhard, et al. “Facebook and Online Privacy: Attitudes, Behaviors, and Unintended Consequences.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, v.15/1 (2009).

Goodman, Jessica. “The Digital Divide Is Still Leaving Americans Behind.” Mashable (August 18, 2013). (Accessed July 2014).

Hargittai, Eszter. “Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses Among Members of the ‘Net Generation’.” Sociological Inquiry, v.80/1 (2010).

Hargittai, Eszter and Amanda Hinnant. “Digital Inequality: Differences in Young Adults’ Use of the Internet.” Communication Research, v.35/5 (2008).

Rhee, Hyeun-Suk, et al. “Self-Efficacy in Information Security: Its Influence on End Users’ Information Security Practice Behavior.” Computers & Security, v.28/8 (2009).

Smith, Rick. “Cedar Rapids Library to Lend Computer Tablets to ‘Bridge the Digital Divide’.” The Gazette (Updated March 29, 2014). (Accessed July 2014).

Wadhwa, Vivek. “The $40 Indian Tablet That Could Help Bridge America’s Digital Divide.” The Washington Post (October 23, 2013). (Accessed July 2014).

Warschauer, Mark, et al. “Technology and Equity in Schooling: Deconstructing the Digital Divide.” Educational Policy, v.18/4 (2004).

Zillien, Nicole and Eszter Hargittai. “Digital Distinction: Status-Specific Types of Internet Usage.” Social Science Quarterly, v.90/2 (2009).