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This content is taken from the University of York's online course, Becoming a Digital Citizen: an Introduction to the Digital Society. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Hiya I’m Susan Halfpenny and I work at the University of York in the Information Services department as a Teaching

Skip to 0 minutes and 12 seconds and :earning Advisor. With the advance of the internet and everyone getting online, it is great now that we have got that access via the internet.

Skip to 0 minutes and 20 seconds It’s changed how we access all information and what we do: so whether that be reading the internet; looking at books; whether it’s looking at research papers and research data… Having said that I think it would be really irresponsible to think and assume that everyone has access to the internet and is able to use it and navigate it, to participate in society.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 seconds So for example, if we look at some of the facts and figures: 60% of the world’s population don’t have an internet connection. And of the 40% that do have an internet connection, the majority of them come from the top 20 countries, with only 25% coming from the remaining 178 countries. So really, when we are thinking about this, that’s a massive amount of the population that aren’t online and don’t have access to this media. If we drill down to just looking at Great Britain then, yes we have got 86% of people who have an internet connection in their household.

Skip to 1 minute and 18 seconds But if we also look at other government reports and findings that look into digital futures and actually the skills that we have to engage and use the internet, online media, and digital technologies competently, we’ve got 1.2 million who haven’t got those skills. It tends to mirror and reflect – really reinforcing – existing inequalities that we have in society. So the digital divide, then, is therefore something that we really do need to start to consider when we think about digital citizenship and the ability

Skip to 2 minutes and 1 second to be able to participate: what it means for those social groups that don’t have access to the internet; what it means for the statistics that we pull off the internet to inform our decisions that we take. What we are looking at there is really, in simple terms, those that do have access to the internet and those that don’t; and those that do have the skills to use these digital technologies and those that don’t. For those groups that don’t have access to the internet then

Skip to 2 minutes and 30 seconds it can be difficult for them to be able to obtain work:

Skip to 2 minutes and 34 seconds they miss out on employment opportunities: those which are advertised online. And also it’s harder to engage in the community and in social groups. Also basic things like being able to access to government services, health information… All this becomes quite a difficult endeavour. We have these barriers that are put in place. Yes, for those that are online it’s very enabling – all this information they have got – but if you haven’t got that it’s constantly hit by that wall of not being able to get and participate in our modern society. So it really is something that we do need to be considering about how we can help and assist people to overcome these boundaries.

Skip to 3 minutes and 16 seconds To enable them to really full participate in this society, and ensure that the data that we gather and how we make decisions on a political level include these social groups that at the minute aren’t represented in this medium. That’s not to say that nothing is being done to increase awareness and enable access to these digital technologies for all. We’ve seen recently from government organisations, such as the EU, they’ve include in their 2020 strategy that we look at the digital agenda, which looks at enabling access and participation through these formats.

Skip to 3 minutes and 54 seconds Also the UK Government: we had the UK Digital Futures report which suggested some recommendations of how we can upskill our workforce and make sure we future proof that, all linked to the use of digital tools and how we can best use those.

Skip to 4 minutes and 8 seconds We’ve even got non-government organisations:

Skip to 4 minutes and 11 seconds the UN have raised this as a massive area: of having equality in information. It’s one of their values to make sure that people have the skills and the opportunity to participate fully in society across the world. So with all this in mind I think it really is important when we start to think about becoming a digital citizen; that we don’t overlook those groups who haven’t got their voice on that platform yet. Think about when we use the data that we get there – the market research; however we are informing our information using these online tools – that it isn’t the voice of everyone.

Skip to 4 minutes and 45 seconds And we need to start thinking about how that informs our decisions and also political decisions in our society – what can we do to enable those people in our community who haven’t got access or haven’t got the skills to use this? – and really just being mindful of the information that’s out there for some is not out there for others so we need to make

Skip to 5 minutes and 6 seconds sure whatever we publish is as accessible as possible: whether that means using these digital mediums or whether we need to think about the print as well.

The digital divide and information inequalities

The digital divide mirrors existing inequalities in our society (be they on grounds of age, gender, race, or something else), making the gap between those who do have access and skills, and those who don’t, even more significant. By creating a new digital layer through which our access to basic amenities (such as government services and health information) is mediated, we are contributing to the continued exclusion of those who are already worse off.

In this video, Teaching and Learning Advisor Susan Halfpenny outlines the complexities of the digital divide and the responsibility we have to consider its effect.

Updated Internet Access Statistics

The statistics in the video of the 60/40 divide in access to the internet were based on data provided by the Internet Telecommunications Union from 2000-2015. A new report has subsequently been published by the ITU indicating that the world’s population who don’t have access to the internet has dropped to 53%. So we are improving access, but with half the world’s population still offline there are considerable implications for how engage with and represent this group of citizens.


Age UK (2015) Later life in a digital world

OECD (2016) Skills Matter: Further Results from the Survey of Adult Skills

UK Government (2014) Digital Inclusion Strategy

UK Government (2017) Digital Skills and Inclusion Policy

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This video is from the free online course:

Becoming a Digital Citizen: an Introduction to the Digital Society

University of York