Topic and relevance
As more of our everyday lives become digital, from paying bills, reading news, to contacting companies and services, keeping in touch with your friends and family, and even voting - it has become crucial to include everyone in the online world. But the meaning of digital inclusion keeps on changing and with it also the set of skills that are necessary to be ‘digital’ (Jaeger et al., 2012). What type of skills do people need to ‘be digital’ today? Is access to the internet enough, or do people need to understand how the internet works as well? Which kind of training programmes should be developed? Should there be one type of skills and training programme or different ones who cater to people from different backgrounds and needs (ableism, age, education, gender, race, religion)? With the automation of many jobs, how can we foresee what skills will be needed for future work? These questions have been occupying the private sector and policy makers, and as more tasks become automated and digitalised, addressing them becomes ever more crucial.
Discussions of inequality in the use of digital media and systems have predominantly focused on issues measured by access to the internet and skills such as checking emails, finding information and downloading music (van Dijk and Hacker, 2003, van Dijk, 2005). These topics have been key issues for policymakers (Yates et al., 2014; 2015a; 2015b) and are central to the development of many governmental digital strategies in Europe, the UK, and the USA (Mawson, 2001). Recent academic work on issues of digital inclusion and inequalities has shifted the focused from quantitative indicators and looks at issues of digital skills in relation to the social support networks people receive (Helsper & Van Deursen, 2017). As such research shows, there is strong evidence that the quality of support people have access to is unequally distributed and replicate existing inequalities. Evidence shows that inequalities in access to and use of digital media have measurable impacts on the life chances, health and economic wellbeing of citizens. In other words, it is not only a matter of skills but also the context and communities people live in that influences people’s inclusion in the ‘digital’.
Scope of the special issue
Since the introduction and widespread use of machine learning and artificial intelligence in different decision making processes relating to citizens’ life (health, justice, policing) and onto entertainment (e.g., Netflix and Spotify) and news, research on digital skills has shifted. This is because inequalities now involve more complex issues of how these technologies work and what they can influence and manipulate. In addition, as ‘fake news’ and misinformation have become common practices by various entities, new avenues in the types of digital literacies citizens need have been introduced. These include digital understanding of how the internet works (Doteveryone, 2018), how to engage with online news (e.g., fact checking), how digital advertising / adtech works (ICO, 2019) and how to use different tools to be able to control and manage the type of information shared with other parties. This shift has become central to some governmental digital strategies, such as those of the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) (2019) and their equivalents around the globe, in countries such as Brazil, India, and the USA, or the Norwegian Ombudsman (Forbrukerrådet, 2018). After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, governments have realised the power of technology giants like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft, to shape and influence people’s behaviour. Consequently, many aim to regulate and force them to change how they are designed and the way they present information (from content to advertisements).
This special issue draws on over two decades of research, policy, and practice. Over this time digital inequalities, digital inclusion and digital literacies have changed in response to developments in digital technologies and media. Key themes have remained, such as: material and financial access to technological devices and services; skills and digital literacy; effective use by citizens and communities to participate in political and civic discussions and activities; the impact of socio-economic factors; motivation and attitudes; and, more recently socio-economic and socio-cultural variations in patterns of usage. Digital inequalities therefore have become an important part of broader persistent issues of social equity and justice.
Focus of the papers
The primary aim of this special issue is to link up international policy efforts to address contemporary and future digital inequalities, access and skills with the outcomes of research from around the globe. The intention is on sharing best practice and research insights, while acknowledging that these problems are not the same in different parts of the world and so there are no universal solutions. We invite authors to submit papers that cover empirical research as well as policy and practice interventions, such as:
- Data analysis of levels of digital inclusion / exclusion and engagement
- Studies on the link between misinformation and data literacies
- Studies of the impacts of digital exclusion
- Policy interventions
- Case studies of initiatives and programmes
- Case studies of community impact
- Special issue editors
Dr Elinor Carmi (Elinor.Carmi(at)liverpool.ac(dot)uk)
Postdoc Research Associate - Digital Media & Society,
Department of Communication and Media,
Faculty of the Humanities and Social Sciences,
School of the Arts, Liverpool University, UK.
Professor Simeon Yates
Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor
Research Environment and Postgraduate Research
Liverpool University, UK.