This post originally appears on my blog: http://bit.ly/5UPRhU
As we increasingly utilize social media to interact with others and learn, there are many individuals who return to questions of digital divides. Is there unequal access and participation in these new technologies based on certain indicators such as race, SES, or education? You can find some current thought on digital divides and social media by Henry Jenkins, Eszer Hargittai, and the HASTAC community.
While there is a lot of thought and discussion about digital divides and youth (under 18), there are very few studies that actually try to see whether young people have differential access to things like Facebook or MySpace. Hargittai's work considers college student populations, but I wanted to explore youth in particular.
I am excited to share some preliminary findings of my first dissertation paper (see end of post for a description of my overall dissertation) entitled, Digital Divides and Social Network Sites: Which Students Participate in Social Media? I'm also excited that the paper will appear next year in a special issue of the Journal of Educational Computing Research. Please look out for it! Nevertheless, academic life moves much slower than real life, so instead of waiting for next year, I thought I'd share some of the findings from the study.
The Study: I used a nationally-representative dataset from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. In 2007 they conducted a survey of teenagers, their writing habits, and their technology practices. I conducted logistic regression analysis to ask the question: Do digital divide indicators such as race, parent education, gender, age, and others predict whether teenagers use social network sites (SNS)? Put another way, is access to these sites unequal across demographic or social lines?
My findings were quite interesting from this nationally representative dataset:
- African American/Black youth were 42.3% *more likely* to use SNS compared to their White peers.
- Boys were 42.6% *less likely* to use social network sites compared to girls.
- Having a college educated parent, or having a parent who is an Internet user, had *no significant influence* on whether a teenager had access to SNS.
- Having broadband internet access at home did not have any significant relationship to whether a teen used SNS.
- Having primary Internet access at school (but not at home) had *no significant relationship* to using SNS.
- Having primary Internet access somewhere other than school or home had a *large* positive relationship to using SNS. Teens who primarily access the Internet outside of home or school had a 61.8% more likelihood of using social network sites.
What do these findings suggest? I'd say that (1) Kids find a way. We might be concerned that parents and schools are blocking access to social media, but youth find a way to participate. (2) Traditional digital divide indicators like education level or Internet access do not predict whether youth use social network sites. A minimal level of access seems sufficient for kids getting connected. Again, kids find a way to get connected.
I think the fact that Black youth were more connected, that youth with dial-up connections are just as connected, and that teenage girls are more connected than their male peers... are all quite intriguing trends. They fly opposite of earlier digital divide work, and suggest that while understanding divides is still important, youth of all walks of life are increasingly finding ways to connect with online social networks. This is promising!! And remember that this dataset was from 2007, access has increased so much in 2 years. For example, Facebook went from over 100 million to 350 million members (as of December 2009) in just one year. Social media is indeed becoming a daily part of teen life.
* This year, I am completing three studies for my dissertation (and thus three different papers). While the traditional dissertation usually consists of 5 chapters (intro, lit review, methods, findings, conclusion), my dissertation will be in a different format: intro, lit review, and three journal ready articles. All of my papers will consider some question about youth, social network sites, and learning.