Race and the Digital: Racial Formation and 21st Century Technologies

Facebook as a Bridge-Building Platform in the Digital Divide by Ana V Hernandez


Media, the tool and platform for mass communication, can be traced back to the pre-historic age of human civilization. Practices that today may not seem “advanced," like writing and wall art, can be considered forms of media (or the plural of media: mediums) used by our ancestors to send messages to multiple people. Progressively through time, the types of mediums that we use for the purposes of mass communication have evolved to other forms. For example, the classic examples are mailing services, newspapers, magazines, radio and television. The latter two constitute a specific subset of media called digital media as they make use of [precisely] digital innovations. Furthermore, we can distinguish between old and new media. The examples mentioned above fit the description for older media, whereas new media would encompass more novel mediums that have been enhanced or risen from the advancement of modern technology, like cellphones and computers. 

Inevitably, societal problems like stratification and inequalities (along with their ties to minoritized communities) have come to be reflected in media. Since the beginning, questions of who can create, who can control, and who can access this media have been prevalent. The divides between those who can and those who cannot, for the most part, have always existed and can now also be seen reflected in new digital media. This concept is also known as The Digital Divide. As a topic itself, the Digital Divide encompasses an array of factors that answer the questions posed above. Some of these include colonial legacies, physical resource location and distribution, community underdevelopment, educational opportunities, etc. 

This paper will particularly examine The Digital Divide through an analysis of the internet social media platform, Facebook. However, rather than to focus on the gap that Facebook might perhaps facilitate or engage in, this paper will hone in on the bridge building potential that Facebook has exhibited. Indeed, the internet and its rapid proliferation into the majority of people's lives has made it an ideal candidate through which to analyze the digital divide. Social media is also particularly fascinating because more than just feeding people content, it also allows for their participation in the creation of content. Facebook itself is a great case study because of its immense popularity. Studies that account for usage (with their own gaps in data collection, which will be discussed later) already mark it as the most popular social media site and that does not always account for indirect user impact.

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