New research suggests that although the digital divide still persists, some areas of Internet and social media use are more racially diverse than expected.
University of California, Berkeley researchers discovered Internet-connected African-Americans are more likely to blog than their white and Hispanic counterparts.
Researchers also found that Internet-savvy blacks, on average, blog one and a half times to nearly twice as much as whites, while Hispanics blog at the same rate as whites. But African-Americans as a whole are less likely to afford laptops and personal computers.
“Blacks consume less online content, but once online, are more likely to produce it,” said the study’s author, doctoral student Jen Schradie.
The research is published in the March online issue of the journal, Information, Communication & Society.
Schradie analyzed data from more than 40,000 Americans surveyed between 2002 and 2008 for the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which tracks Internet use and social media trends.
The findings complement a 2011 study in which Schradie found a “digital divide” among online content producers based on education and socio-economic status.
The latest study supports earlier findings that college educated Web 2.0 – users populate blogs, websites and video-sharing sites. The new study adds ethnic or racial utilization patterns of the online content.
According to Schradie, “While blacks are more likely to blog than whites, it doesn’t mean the digital divide is over. People with more income and education are still more likely to blog than those with just a high school education and Internet access.”
On average, about 10 percent of blacks are likely to blog, compared to 6 percent of whites, according to surveys taken during that seven-year period.
Researchers found that the blogging rates continued to increase for African-Americans with 17 percent of blacks likely to blog in 2008, compared to 9 percent of whites.
During that period, free online blogging platforms such as Blogger, WordPress and Tumblr, became widely available to the public.
Researchers discovered that although the longer-form blogs have been eclipsed in recent years by such micro-blogging tools as Twitter and Facebook, they continue to exist in the digital landscape, growing at a steady rate.
The study did not look into why African Americans might blog at higher rates than whites and Hispanics – a topic Schradie says deserves further exploration.
However, she does note: “Perhaps, African-Americans, who have been marginalized from the mainstream news media, now have a platform for participation and are more likely to blog.”
According to spokespeople for political and community organizing groups such as the ColorOfChange.org, social media is a natural extension of the word-of-mouth communication traditions used in African-American communities.
“Ultimately, the study shows that class inequality is perpetuating the digital divide in social media,” Schradie said. “Race matters, but not the way we think it does.”