Access to social and digital media dividing people

The world is networking fast and more and more people are using the internet than ever.

In 2014 about 42% of the entire world’s population was using the internet. According to the International Communications Association (ICA), and as of the end of 2018, 3.9 billion people, or 51.2% of the world’s population were using the internet.

There are, however, tremendous differences in the number of users across different groups of people. This creates problems in terms of equality and development since much information exchange and many important services happen online.

As access and literacy between people vary, for some reaching certain services becomes more difficult.  The growing importance of social media continues to widen the information, power and economic gap between those who have and those who do not have access.

Among others, global geographical differences can cause disparity. For example, in 2014 in North America the internet was used by no fewer than 86.9% of the population, in Europe by about 70% and in the Middle East by less than 50%, whereas In Africa, for example, and according to the ICA, the percentage of internet users increased from 2.1%  in 2005 to 24.4% in 2018.

Small-scale regional differences are also related to this. The difference between the countryside and cities can be large even within national borders. This also explains at least some of the disparity between continents. In Africa, urbanisation only started fairly recently.

Financial differences might account for even more of the disparity. For example, in 2019 in some African countries like Uganda there is a daily fee, called a social media tax, for access to social media platforms, not to mention those who do not have access to internet at all. In order to function, the internet requires infrastructure and many devices that are unavailable to those living in the poorest areas. Financial differences might also explain some of the difference in the figures within a country.

A person who is not comfortable with using technology might find it very difficult to handle all their daily errands.

Another major factor restricting access can also be poor human rights or, more specifically, lack of freedom of speech. In many countries that are somewhat totalitarian, citizens’ access to the internet is both restricted and monitored. For example, in China many of the most popular social media services, such as Facebook and YouTube, are blocked entirely using a firewall.

Since digitalisation and use of the internet are relatively new phenomena, age is a very significant factor. The term digital native refers to those who have grown up using digital technology, so use the different devices and services quite fluently. Even today’s middle-aged can face challenges when trying to keep up with all the new features. The elderly face the toughest challenges, in developed countries in particular.

Many highly important services, such as banking, health care, tax-paying, etc. have been moved completely to online environments. Even access to public toilets can be restricted to having a smart phone payment option. A person who is not comfortable with using technology might find it very difficult to handle all their daily errands. What makes matters even worse is the possible deterioration of sight, hearing and memory, which makes it even more difficult to navigate the services.