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Social Media for the Bottom of the Digital Pyramid

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abstract The advent of social media has changed the information environment drastically over the past 10 years. The new Internet is characterized by the vital participation of its users and comprises a variety of tools and sites for shared information creation and updating as well as social networking and communication (Bawden, 2008). The ongoing digitalization which affects all aspects of life makes media competency even more important to successfully participate in society. In order to do so, people must not only adapt their existing skills to the new context, but also develop new ones (Correira & Teixeira, 2002, p. 3). In short, social media call for a broadened view of literacy - one that includes competencies to locate, classify and process information with communication technologies, and to constantly redevelop these skills as technology progresses (Correira & Teixeira, 2002; Kellner, 2002; Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2003; Rainie & Horrigan, 2005; Senn-Breivik, 2005). However, many individuals hardly have the time and means to adapt their skills accordingly (OECD, 2010), and, as Hargittai (2010) adds, the development of new skills as well as the adjustment to new conditions are dependent on the socio-economic status, the personality traits and the social and technological context of the individual.
As more and more people are using the Web to communicate, retrieve information, and contribute with content, the discourse of the frequently discussed topic of the digital divide is shifting from a digital divide seen as a gap between those who do and those who do not have access to digital technologies (e.g.,Hoffman & Novak, 1998; Katz & Aspden, 1997; van Dijk, 2006) to a digital divide describing a gap between those who fail to make effective and purposeful use of the digital opportunities and those who use the Internet productively. In other words, the focus is shifting from a simplistic and binary conceptualization of Internet access to a more advanced and complex approach that involves width and depth of Internet usage (Dholakia, Dholakia, & Kshetri, 2004; Livingstone & Helsper, 2007; van Dijk, 2006). Beside the diverse types of Internet usages, the social and strategic competencies to make full use of the participatory potentials of social media differ among the socially disadvantaged, the ‘bottom of the digital pyramid‘, and the more ‘elite’ users. The digital pyramid spans different types of web users. Thereby, only a relatively small group of individuals, namely the top of the pyramid, make up the active and literate elite of users. And primarily this elite is addressed by companies, new developments and the literature. And it is this relatively small percentage of the society that can enjoy the potentials of social media to the fullest extent. The majority of people, which you may label the 'bottom of the digital pyramid' is unable to do so. Passivity, inability and/ or uncertainty in using social media are for them a hindering factor in realizing the economic and social benefits of these new applications.
This paper addresses the shift in focus of the digital divide discourse as well as the potentials of social media for the socially disadvantaged in particular by exploring the factors that shape participation in the Web, primarily among the ‘bottom of the digital pyramid’. We will discuss how social media changes and possibly facilitates the way of coping with societal exclusion, and possible means of organizing and action to empower this specific group for participation. In particular, the paper will address the concerns of one particular marginalized group, those of the unemployed, and will examine the potential of social media for coping with unemployment and facilitating the reentry into the job market. The authors are aware that the "group" of unemployed persons is as heterogeneous as society itself, having different socio-demographic characteristics, affinities, and competences which are necessary to be taken into account when identifying and classifying social media usage and literacy patterns. However, as we are interested in analyzing the media competencies of unemployed persons especially those belonging to the socially disadvantaged, we will refer especially to this specific group when referring to the unemployed or unemployed persons for the sake of simplicity.
Recent evidence suggests that it is important to consider inequality in social media usage (Hargittai, 2010, Hargittai & Walejko, 2008). Our contribution is one step to address this gap in social media research that has a natural tendency to focus on the more articulate users. We also point out to the relevance for society in general, for which the lack of permeability in social systems might query their essential civil principles if these issues are not addressed. In the increasingly user generated Web, a divide in the breadth and frequency of participation may lead to the emergence of a system that is dominated by elite contributors while the rest will remain mere consumers of content (Hargittai & Walejko, 2008).
The new information and communication technologies are a chance to counteract those devel-opments. The disadvantaged might build more strategic social relationships and use better suited forms of information reception and production to catch up with society. Therefore, the new possibilities and opportunities enabled by the new generation of social media technologies are of high relevance for the unemployed. Furthermore, new digital media opens up additional possibilities to overcome exclusionary processes and structures, and influence the subjective perception of precarity by disadvantaged persons and therefore their feeling of societal exclusion. Finally, chances for governmental and corporate actors to act on their responsibility to foster societal cohesion are addressed, which may ultimately lead to the development of new digital product offerings tailored to the needs of the disadvantaged and business opportunities. The people at the ‘bottom of the digital pyramid’ could for instance benefit from a more sophisticated Internet usage, by gaining enhanced autonomy and by improving their capacity to accomplish more productive tasks for and by themselves.
Our paper will both address theoretical and practical issues. From a theoretical point of view, the context and the implications of social media are applied to the context of the marginalized and the unemployed, thus widening the scope of social media research. From a practical point of view, the article presents a novel perspective on the question of social participation in a more and more digital environment, as well as engagement opportunities for the corporate sector with the ‘bottom of the digital pyramid’. Being a review contribution at the current, all the limitations that apply for theoretical research apply to our contribution.
The paper is divided into four parts. After this introduction, this paper continues with an over-view of recent literature addressing the digital divide, followed by a discussion of the implication of digital divide research for the unemployed. Finally, we propose a model of a digital inequality pyramid that compromises four dimensions of skills, which will be explained and discussed last.
   
type presentation (English)
   
keywords social inclusion, digital divide, social media literacy, unemployment
   
date of presentation 31-10-2011
event Social Media for Social Purposes Conference (Copenhagen)
citation Feuls, M., Fieseler, C., Meckel, M., & Suphan, A. (2011). Social Media for the Bottom of the Digital Pyramid. Presented at Social Media for Social Purposes Conference, Copenhagen.
   
profile area SoM - Business Innovation