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The Digital Divide: The Newest Barrier For Immigrants And Latinos?

First Posted: 03/09/2012 6:55 am Updated: 03/09/2012 7:29 am

On Wednesday, Portada, a Latino research group which calls itself "the leading source on Latin marketing and media" released a data set which would likely sound the alarms at Facebook headquarters. Only 19% of U.S. Hispanics are using Facebook, the study concluded.

Fortunately for Facebook, the Portada estimates are definitely misleading, and possibly inaccurate, as they are contradicted by most other major studies. In fact, social media seems to be the only segment of the Internet which offers Latinos and Latino immigrants hope of shrinking a "digital divide."

According to most other surveys, more than half of U.S. Latinos are on Facebook. AOL's Hispanic Cyber Study from 2010 found that 54% of US Hispanics regularly use Facebook compared with only 43% of white Americans.

The same year, Mashable.com statisticians concluded that U.S. Latinos were overrepresented on the site when compared the populations numbers, and lead researcher at the Pew Internet & American Life Project Aaron Smith found that English-speaking Latinos outpaced their white counterparts in adoption of Facebook and Twitter as well.

While Portada most likely got it wrong about Latinos and Facebook, large barriers to more general Internet adoption do persist for U.S. Hispanics.

Researcher Gretchen Livingston of the Pew Hispanic Center found that about two-thirds of Latino (65%) adults went online in 2010, while more than three-fourths (77%) of white adults did so.

The study found that those Latinos who were offline were more likely to be from lower income backgrounds, to be less educated, and to not be fluent in English. First generation immigrants were the most likely to be without Internet access.

Increasingly, job listings, news, apartment classifieds, and healthcare resources are being transferred online, where English speakers and Internet users can access them readily.

Robert Park, the father of the theory of assimilation wrote in 1922 that, “the immigrant
must learn quickly, for his livelihood depends on it."

While he wrote these words in regards to the importance of reading newspapers for immigrants, in a modern context, his words perhaps apply to the unique value of the internet for immigrants seeking information about their new home.

But Latino immigrants, behind in the adoption of Internet technologies, may be losing out on opportunities and crucial information due to this 21st century barrier to societal integration.

In Pew Center studies from the last three years, Latinos and first generation Latino immigrants lagged severely in the adoption of broadband technologies at home. While 76% of U.S.-born Latinos go online, 43% of those born outside the U.S do the same, according to Pew's 2010 study.

Aaron Smith, head researcher at the Pew Internet & American Life Project called “Home Broadband 2010” found that English and computer literacy were the two largest barriers to Internet use in general for Latino immigrants.

Elianne Ramos, a queen of Hispanic social media, is hopeful that social media and smartphone technologies -- which Latinos have adopted at faster rates than non-Latinos -- can help close the digital divide.

Ramos, who has nearly 15,000 followers and has tweeted almost 87,000 times since she started her account, says that the it is the responsibility of those with Internet to assist those who are not connected and act as their voice in a sphere in which they are underrepresented..

"What it means is that those of us with access to technology, as opinion leaders, should embrace the chance to use our influence in a way that can helpshape misconceptions about our community and better the economic conditions, educational attainment, political influence, health and civil rights of those Latinos who lack access," she said in an interview with The Huffington Post.

Not only is Ramos hopeful about the implications of social media in the Latino community, but she believes it will give a voice to those without one.

"There's no middle man," she said. "At long last, through social media, we can produce, consume and exchange ideas, theories and information by anyone and to anyone with access to the online community."

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