Study: Internet use not 'democratic'

June 9, 2011 at 8:17 PM

BERKELEY, Calif., June 9 (UPI) -- Despite a perception that social media users can influence public opinion with online content, the Internet is not quite that democratic, a U.S. study says.

A study from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests the social Web is becoming more of a playground for the affluent and the well-educated than a true digital democracy.

Despite the proliferation of social media -- and recent focus on sites like Twitter and Facebook playing pivotal roles in such pro-democracy movements as the Arab Spring -- most blogs, Web sites and video-sharing sites represent the perspectives of college-educated, Web 2.0-savvy affluent users, a UC Berkeley release said Tuesday.

"Having Internet access is not enough. Even among people online, those who are digital producers are much more likely to have higher incomes and educational levels," said Jen Schradie, a doctoral candidate in sociology at UC Berkeley and author of the study.

College graduates are 1.5 times more likely than high school graduates to be bloggers, she found, and twice as likely to post photos and videos and three times more likely to post an online rating or comment.

Overall, the study found, less than 10 percent of the U.S. population is participating in most online production activities.

The digital divide between haves and have-nots underscores growing concerns that the poor and working classes lack the resources to participate fully in civic life, much of which is now online, the study said.

"Conventional wisdom tells us that the Internet is leveling the playing field and broadening the diversity of voices being heard," Schradie said.

But, she said, her findings "show the Internet is actually reinforcing the socio-economic divisions that already exist, and may even heighten them, which has all sorts of implications as more of civic and economic life moves online."

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