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Digital divide in the globalization era: why Internet isn't (already) a global news medium


Internet is gradually becoming a global news medium, but the unequal distribution of technological devices is still a problem, and it’s slowing this process.

Giving everyone the possibility to share their ideas (Zuckerberg, M 2017) it’s necessary to build a global community based on the wide use of social media. Unfortunately, the domination of some voices over others in certain countries such as China or Korea and the digital divide that still exists in developing countries make this goal difficult to achieve.

This essay will begin by outlining how it is currently impossible to define the Internet as a global news medium, considering the concept of “globalization” from different perspectives. It then asserts the ongoing challenges connected to the lack of an equal distribution of this social media. It concludes with an overall positive view on the potential of the Internet as a global medium.




As previously said, Zuckerberg (2017) discusses the importance of letting everyone express their opinions and discuss with others; but how can the Internet be a globalized medium if even nowadays some people don’t have the possibility to access this network? In fact, Internet World Stats’ rates and statistics (2017) show how Internet population and penetration worldwide is unequal, emphasizing that the Internet penetration at the end of 2017 was less than 40% in African countries. Another issue concerns the concept of globalization. As Giddens (1999, lecture 1) states, globalization is not just an economic phenomenon; it is also ‘political, technological and cultural’.

But, according to some pessimistic views, the recent development of a global marketplace, controlled by the wealthier part of the world, determines the imposition of the culture and ideologies from the West on the rest of the world, as if in their affairs ‘developing societies of the South play little or no active part’ (Giddens, 1999).

In this sense, globalization has often been associated to cultural homogenization. Although the cultural influence from the West is undeniable, we cannot establish an equivalence between globalization and the development of a single western mindset.


In fact, new media such as the Internet facilitate and promote critical thinking, opinion-exchanging and discussion.

The Internet finds its power in the personalization of its contents by individuals, that can decide whether to express an upstream view or to find groups of people with whom they can share experiences and collective or connective actions (Bennet & Segerberg, 2012). From this perspective, and keeping in mind the definition of globalization previously discussed, it’s difficult to consider the Internet as a way to only allow the circulation of western-oriented ideas: up ahead, Bennet & Segerberg (2012) state that this new medium conveys minorities feelings, protests from subcultures and continuously shapes new mindsets.

Furthermore, being part of a global community means participate from national to worldwide levels, taking an active role in decisional processes that might influence many countries (Zukerberg, 2017). Yet, the mogul himself admit that Facebook is still working on this issue. That means, in other words, that an Internet- based global community doesn’t exist yet.


Having explained why today is still difficult to view Internet as a truly global medium, it’s now possible to analyze the challenges related to the gap between developing societies and healthier countries.

Challenges that are all strictly connected to each other, starting from the absence of technological devices, and sometimes also of a proper education on human rights, to the impossibility to have direct access to information, and most of all to customizable contents that are, according to Bennet & Segerberg (2017), the main way to express an idea.

At this point, it should be clear that without a tangible communication platform people are cut off from society. It’s surprising, then, that one of the fundamental human rights protected from the European document “Charter of fundamental right of the European Union”, ratified in 2000, is the freedom of being informed.

The article no. 11- comma 1- of this proclamation is particularly relevant for this essay, as discusses the inalienable right of expression:

  1. Ogni individuo ha diritto alla libertà di espressione. Tale diritto include la libertà di opinione e la libertà di ricevere o di comunicare informazioni o idee senza che vi possa essere ingerenza da parte delle autorità pubbliche e senza limiti di frontiera.

This right includes the freedom of opinion, of receiving and communicating information and ideas without any barrier. Unfortunately, this Chart doesn’t apply to every country in the world: in fact, people who live in dictatorial nations haven’t full access to every type of information. All the news that come from international newspapers are meticulously monitored, and there are a lot of restrictions on publications.

Focusing on social media, some of them cannot be used in countries such as China and Korea, and Internet access is controlled and restricted. I underline this because Zuckerberg’s purpose of creating a truly global community (Zuckerberg, 2017) trough Facebook, Instagram and, more in general, the Internet cannot be reached as far as some States interdict a free, worldwide exchange.


Moreover, difficulties in turning Internet into a global news medium are visible also in European democracies. Many authors such as Mastropaolo (2013) show concern about the decline of democracy and participation. In a framework like this, is difficult to see the Internet as a global medium. Yet, lots of researches have been done these years to find a way to turn this network in an instrument that helps revitalizing the participation, and most important that increasingly supports individuals to be more connected and involved in national and international politics (Freschi & Mete, 2009).


Lastly, the lack of opportunities of being informed is linked, in developing countries - especially those from South Africa ( Internet World Stats, 2017), to economic backwardness and to cultural identities still far away from being touched and influenced by technological changes produced from other societies. Internet access is not blocked only by poverty: in order to preserve their differences from the rest of the world, thousands of populations avoid contacts with other groups.

A behavior easily comprehensible from people that have been oppressed for centuries. The same reasoning can be done for Aboriginal Australians: there are lots of Aboriginal societies that prefer to live away from Australians’ cities, to protect their heritage that, unfortunately, is not enough represented and recognized as worthy by laws (Janke, 1998).

Yet, many Indigenous people are integrated into the Australian society. But integrated doesn’t always mean that there are really respected. Many times, mass media and social media give misrepresentations of their culture, since many journalists don’t seek connection with them to write stories that talk about them. In a globalized world, news media not always create connections between cultures (Dodson,2003). The Internet isn’t often used as an instrument to affirm the sense of belonging to a land, the identity of an individual or a group of people. However, Dodson (2003) states that is necessary for Aboriginal people to define themselves, because is part of their right of self-determination.

The Internet cannot be considered, nowadays, as a global news medium, because even when it offers the opportunity to people to have a voice on an issue, it also gives more space to mainstream and more powerful speakers, that will continue to impose their own vision on the world on others, consolidating inequality and stereotypes (Stoneham, 2014).


In this scenario, a truly globalized news medium seems to be impossible. However, if we change our way to think the concept of globalization as something that interest everyone, which has been proved to be quite utopian, is possible to see the Internet as a new force that still needs to be improved but that has a great potential to become, in the future, a base to ‘build an inclusive community that reflects our collective values’ as humans (Zuckerberg, 2017).

The Internet still isn’t a truly global news medium, but it might be that, in different economic and social frames, this incredible network will be a support for a wide circulation of information, opinions and shared values. Barriers to access the Internet have yet to be removed, and further developments will reveal the destiny of the Internet.

References

Zuckerberg, M 2017, ‘Building Global Community’, 18 February, viewed 8 August 2018, https://m.facebook.com/notes/mark-zuckerberg/building-global-community/10154544292806634

Internet World Stats, 2017, ‘Internet usage statistics. The Internet big picture, Miniwatts Marketing Group’, viewed 17 August 2018,

https://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

Giddens, A 1999, ‘Lecture 1: Globalisation. London’, Runaway world, BBC Radio 4- Reith Lectures 1999, viewed on 15 August 2018,

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith1999/lecture1.shtml

Bennet, W & Segerberg, A 2012, ‘The logic of connective action’, Information, Communication & Society, vol 15, no. 5, pp. 739-768

European Union, 2000, ‘Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union’, 18 December, viewed 8 August 2018,

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/charter/pdf/text_it.pdf

-2013, “La democrazia dello scontento”, in A. Mastropaolo, La democrazia è una causa persa?, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino

Freschi A, Mete V 2009, “The political meanings of institutional deliberative experiments”, Sociologica, Italian Journal of Sociology on line, pp. 1-55

Janke, T 1998, “Our Culture : Our Future. Report on Australian Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights”, Part 1, Chapter 1 sections 1.1, 1.3, 1.4

http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/7bf9b4_2740d8cff7d24320b70f8a34015f9a53.pdf

Dodson, M 2003, “The end in the beginning: re(de)finding Aboriginality”, in Grossman, M, Blacklines : contemporary critical writing by indigenous Australian, Melbourne University press, Carlton, Chapter 1, pp.25-42

Stoneham, M 2014, ‘Bad news: negative Indigenous health coverage reinforces stigma’, 2 April, viewed 2 August 2018, https://theconversation.com/bad-news-negative-indigenous-health-coverage-reinforces-stigma-24851

Relevant to the topic

Bobbio, L & Pomatto, G 2007, “Il coinvolgimento dei cittadini nelle scelte pubbliche”, in Meridiana. Rivista di Storia e Scienze sociali, n. 58, pp.45-67.

Lanzara, F 2013, "Ambienti deliberativi multimediali: i forum online nei percorsi partecipativi",in Bobbio, L , La qualità della deliberazione. Processi dialogici tra cittadini, Roma, Carocci, pp.119.-148

Stromer-Galley, J & Wichowski, A, "Political discussione online", in Consalvo, M, & Ess, C, The Handbook of Internet Studies, Wiley-Blackwell, pp.168-187.

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