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09:00-10:00 Session 2A: Covid-19 Inequalities
Simeon Yates (Department of Communications and Media, UK)
Titiksha Vashist (The InTech Dispatch, India)
Shyam Krishnakumar (The In Tech Dispatch, India)
‘There is a digital divide’: Understanding digital inequity through a study of India’s vaccine delivery platform

ABSTRACT. Since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic in India since March 2020, digital platforms and apps are increasingly becoming the interfaces between citizens and a variety of services ranging from banking to groceries to public deliveries. While this can be seen as a global response to the pandemic, ‘digital-only’ solutions for critical services like vaccines have emerged as a challenge in India. India rolled out COVID-19 vaccination for the public in April 2021, requiring citizens to sign up on the online CoWin platform, or book a slot through the government contact-tracing app Aarogya Setu. India’s second COVID-19 wave in February 2021 led to a scarcity of vaccines with a lack of procurement procedure and an incoherent roll-out strategy. The scale and complexity of India indeed presented a difficult challenge, and the Indian government responded with CoWIN, a privately built online platform to book vaccine slots. The government also mandated that citizens between the age of 18-45 could only get vaccinated through an online booking. No offline means were permitted.

CoWIN was rife with issues from the day of its launch- primarily because it was a solution which did not take into account the ground realities such as a large population, lack of digital infrastructure and socio-economic inequities. In a country where mobile and internet literacy are severely limited, mandating online registration meant shutting a huge section of Indians out. In 2020, India’s smartphone penetration was a struggling 41%, and about 90% of its population was digitally illiterate. By making vaccination online-only, the platform gave India’s tech-savvy few an unfair advantage. Indian tech experts began writing software and designed websites to help people book scarce vaccines, exacerbating vaccine inequity. The poor, non-urbanites with access barriers found themselves out of this hunt, and were systematically excluded.

The CoWIN case revealed barriers like digital access and literacy, social-economic placing, location and language which cannot be ignored by policymakers at any level. It also challenges the most fundamental assumption that a technology solution will address and solve a critical problem better. Policymakers have to consider and check state capacity and access to make sure that digital interfaces work for all citizens, and not a small elite. Building capacities of intermediaries using training and policy incentives, making the interface linguistically accessible, and providing critical digital infrastructure are crucial. Finally, the CoWIN begs the question of whether states can completely bypass offline realities and launch without offline fail-safes just yet.

Through the CoWIN case, we seek to understand the complex interplay of social and political realities and their impact on digital interfaces. Finally, we aim to set forth recommendations for iterative digital policymaking keeping in mind contextual challenges, especially in times of a public health emergency.

Rituparna Banerjee (Dublin City University, Ireland)
Evaluating ‘Meaningful Connectivity’: Digital Literacy and Women in West Bengal, India

ABSTRACT. India, and South Asia in general, is witnessing a surge in both public-private collaborations and independent initiatives to use technology for ‘national good’ and plug gaps in social development. Do such initiatives provide advantages – as is usually claimed – to citizens at grassroots levels in smaller cities or villages and, encourage innovation from local communities? If so, how do we effectively gauge the benefits of such initiatives from the perspectives of their recipients?

In this broader context, how might we situate digital literacy initiatives? The proposed article foregrounds voices of the beneficiaries of Internet-Saathi – a countrywide programme in India supported by Google and the Tata Trusts. It aims to understand extents to which technological access impacts everyday lives of women in a specific, predominantly rural, district, Purulia, in the state of West Bengal. It draws upon in-depth semi-structured interviews with a sample group of 17 designated ‘Internet Saathis’ between 2016 and 2019, women who imbibed and transmitted knowledge of Internet usage through a ‘train-the-trainer’ model. Collectively, this group reached women in fifty villages within the district. Their grounded experiences and life-worlds supply critical insights into how digital infrastructure and social realities interact: a continuous process that lasts beyond mere delivery of access.

I frame this exposition through a combination of the Capability Approach (CA) and Choice Framework (CF). Together these privilege processes that nurture substantive freedoms and conscious actions towards women-subjects’ own and others’ empowerment, and their eventual attainment of ‘mattering’. As a concept drawn from social psychology, mattering helps to gain deeper insights into how these women participants perform as both recipients and agents of digital literacy in their immediate as well as wider environment. This helps to critically evaluate how diffusion devices and technologies alone do not bring about improved lived experiences, but there are other barriers that persist.

Jenny Kennedy (RMIT, Australia)
Kate Mannell (RMIT, Australia)
Indigo Holcombe-James (RMIT, Australia)
The impacts of financial and material access on digital inclusion for low-income households

ABSTRACT. This paper presents a case study of an initiative that demonstrates the significance of material and financial access and the impact of socio-economic factors. It reports on an ongoing evaluation of a program that seeks to understand how removing affordability barriers to digital inclusion impacts low-income households.

The Connected Students program was conducted in Shepparton, a regional city located 180km north of Melbourne. Shepparton was chosen as the program’s site because it is characterised by a unique combination of low-income and low levels of digital inclusion. It has significant CALD and Indigenous populations, and high levels of unemployment compared to state and national averages.

Funded by Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications provider, and delivered in partnership with Greater Shepparton Secondary College (GSSC), the Connected Students program provided low-income households with students in years 10,11, or 12 with a laptop and an unlimited broadband internet connection for up to two years.

Data collection began in April 2020 and is ongoing with 45 participating households. Data collection methods have included semi-structured interviews via video conferencing platforms, face-to-face interviews, surveys with households, surveys with individuals, and videoed technology tours with households.

Through this data, we argue that the digital exclusion experienced by young people in low income households results less from a lack of digital literacies or access to infrastructure, and more from lack of affordability of devices and data that meet their needs. We draw on the data collected to recommend three policy interventions to address digital inequalities. These are that: 1. Senior students need access to personal laptops at school and home. 2. Senior students need access to reliable internet connections. 3. Low-income households need lower-priced internet plans (including mobile) with greater internet data allowance per dollar of expenditure.

Kim Osman (Queensland University of Technology, Australia)
Ellija Cassidy (Queensland University of Technology, Australia)
Kate Murray (Queensland University of Technology, Australia)
Dan Dai (Queensland University of Technology, Australia)
Mapping the Australian digital mental health network during the COVID-19 pandemic

ABSTRACT. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a wide-reaching impact on health and wellbeing around the globe, including increases in levels of mental distress, with more people accessing online mental health platforms since the pandemic was declared in 2020 (Liu et al., 2020; Titov et al., 2020). While some elements of this demand are fueled by the nature of the infectious disease pandemic, it is likely that increased use of online mental health platforms will persist post-pandemic (Pierce et al., 2020a; Wind et al., 2020). Moreover, the appeal of digital health solutions both within and beyond the context of the pandemic is precipitated by the longstanding promise of eHealth services to increase access to information and support and reduce barriers to traditional health care systems (Burns et al., 2010).

In Australia, e-mental health services are central to the government’s plan for mental health service delivery and significant investments have been made in recent years (Marshall, Dunstan, & Bartik, 2020). As e-mental health proliferates, it is therefore critical to understand its composition and interconnections to guide next steps. The proposed paper quantitatively examined the network structure of mental health websites in Australia, to identify who is most central or authoritative, what types of websites are dominant within the space (e.g., gov, com, org), and what types of resources and digital content are offered to people experiencing crisis. The presented web ecology demonstrates, for example, that professional support services are not currently a prominent part of the sector’s online presence. It offers data that can be used to inform discussion about the future development of Australia's online mental health services in light of significant government investment, with a focus on service provision for marginalised and digitally excluded populations, such as culturally and linguistically diverse Australians.

09:00-10:00 Session 2B: Rural inequalities
Elinor Carmi (Liverpool University, UK)
Kira Allmann (Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford, UK)
Epistemic Justice as Crisis Relief: Local Content Production in Community-Owned Internet Networks During COVID-19

ABSTRACT. This paper explores how community networks – internet networks owned and operated by local communities – have responded to inequalities of access, information and literacy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Community networks have emerged in different contexts worldwide as small-scale solutions to inequalities in internet access, often caused by ‘market failure,’ in which mainstream telecommunications operators neglect to provide adequate access in unprofitable or hard-to-reach areas. Setting up community networks engenders unique socio-technical configurations, as the network is embedded in local geographies, interpersonal relationships, and norms. Local ownership of the network renders connectivity more widespread and affordable, but it also encompasses other meanings and commitments that extend beyond material connectivity – to the communities themselves. This paper draws on two years of ethnographic research in a community network in rural Lancashire, UK, and qualitative research at-a-distance in the broader, global ‘community network movement’ to examine how community networks engage in local digital knowledge-sharing and -production. It presents several case studies on how community networks responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by creating local content – including bulletin boards, virtual digital ‘help’ clubs, and translations of national health information into local languages. It suggests that the effectiveness of these interventions stemmed from local communities’ sense of personal connection to the network – not as infrastructure but, rather, as a constellation of social relationships. And it interrogates how local resilience in the face of the pandemic crisis was rooted in a defiant stance toward these communities’ longstanding infrastructural marginalisation – giving rise to a desire to build digital worlds in the image of and in service to the communities themselves. In these examples, ‘epistemic justice,’ meaning the creation and dissemination of diverse knowledge(s) online, is a requisite aspect of digital equality and a life-saving measure during a pandemic that has exposed the human cost of digital and social exclusion.

Daniel Featherstone (RMIT University, Australia)
Dirt Tracks vs the Superhighway: How COVID widened the digital gap for remote First Nations communities in Australia

ABSTRACT. COVID-19 exacerbated the pre-existing digital divide for remote First Nations communities in Australia, which are among the most disadvantaged and digitally disengaged groups in the country. In mainstream Australia, COVID led to an accelerated reliance on the internet for work, school, shopping, and services, enabled by improved broadband and mobile services and digital transformation, however the digital gap for remote communities grew to a chasm.

During 2020, a hard lockdown on all non-essential movement was introduced for most remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities due to the high risks associated with COVID infection, increasing the need for remote access to services, including health, education, Centrelink, MyGov, justice and banking. However, with an estimated 30% of remote and very remote Indigenous people without household access to telephony or internet, and many Shire/Council offices, schools and other service centres closed, many remote Indigenous people could not access essential services.

A 2020 review of communications services and needs in remote First Nations communities by the author found that while availability of services had improved in recent years - due to NBN SkyMuster satellite, the Mobile Black Spots Program and other State and industry investment - the digital divide had become localised with limited last-mile access and low affordability and digital ability. Many communities reported unreliable services, congestion, costly pre-paid services, and lack of training or support.

A range of remediating activities were established, including nbnco installing 50 free WiFi, Telstra removing public phone charges, government messages being distributed via First Nations media, and communities developing innovative local strategies to connect their communities and continue services such as schooling and elderly support.

The digital inclusion gap was already widening for First Nations people nationally pre-COVID, with the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) measure increasing from 5.2 to 7.9 from 2018 to 2020. While remote communities were omitted from the survey, two case studies in remote communities in 2018 and 2019 measured the gap as 17.3 and 25.2.

The lack of data for remote First nations communities has prevented a more comprehensive analysis of the obstacles and policy and program solutions needed. However, a new research project to supplement the ADII map digital inclusion in 8-10 remote communities over four years is just getting underway. This coincides with the Australian Government announcing digital inclusion as a new Closing the Gap target, aiming for equity by 2026. The COVID experience suggests this is highly ambitious without a coordinated and well-funded strategy to bridge the digital gap.

Radha Bathran (Central University of Tamil Nadu, India)
Coping with digital educational needs by rural marginalized communities in India during COVID - 19 pandemic

ABSTRACT. A father in a remote village in Himachal Pradesh, India, had to sell his cow, the main source of income for his family, to buy a smart phone to ensure online education for his two children during the COVID-19 lockdown in June 2020. The pandemic has given rise to a new normal in the daily lives of many people as well as several other sectors globally. In terms of education, the new normal is the online classes which came as a shock to many marginalized families adding to their struggles and vulnerability. In India, in far off remote villages, education so far has been through public funded schools and colleges. The government welfare schemes and policies like the mid-day meal scheme, free transportation facilities, free and compulsory education and so on have enabled and ensured access to education for the rural marginalized communities in India. Surely this has been a long-term struggle for the state as well as civil society organizations over the years. However, the COVID-19 pandemic related lockdowns and measures to close down educational institutions and subsequent switching of to online classes has surely shaken the decades of struggles of ensuring educational rights for the marginalized communities. The new normal has largely impacted the very means of access to education of children and youth of marginalized communities. It may not be permanent, yet, the realities exposed is hard hitting on the existing digital divide among the urban and rural communities in India. Digital divide has excluded the rural marginalized children and youth from the mainstream education which has temporally switched to online mode. It is reported that there has been increase in child or early marriages of girl children, child labour, child abuse and violence. Existing discriminatory practices, systems and structures against the marginalized communities has increased the vulnerabilities further. It is essential to understand the impacts of such digital exclusion related inequalities and issues of social justice during such pandemic situation. Thus, using qualitative in-depth interviews with different stake holders including students, the study tries to understand the challenges faced in coping with the pandemic-based demands of online education by children and youth of rural marginalized communities in India.

Renza Iqbal (Erasmus University Rotterdam, India)
The Gendered Relationship Between Leisure Time and Skill Development: A Case Of Smartphone Usage in Rural India

ABSTRACT. Across the world, leisure studies have noted a difference in the amount of leisure time one gets based on gender with it being biased towards males. The difference in the same is acute in rural areas in the Global South. In a world where there is a rising use of smartphones, the device is also used as a means of entertainment and leisure. A growing number of people spend their leisure time on their smartphones. An increased usage contributes to better skills and confidence while using the same. Thus leading to a gendered difference in the skill level that individuals have while using the smartphone. This study is based on the rural youth population in Wayanad, a region in the southern state of Kerala, in India. A month-long ethnographic study was carried out by the primary researcher in June 2019, where it was discovered that women’s engagement with smartphones for leisure was not encouraged, and was often looked down upon. Women are expected to use it only for a need and they often tried to play into the expectations to avoid conflict. Whereas the male users were comfortable proclaiming the amount of time they spend on their devices, also highlighting that they are adept at using the technology and handling it with caution and care, a skill which they remarked that women often don’t have. The key reason behind the difference is identified as patriarchy and the gendered rules and expectations existing in the society. The study reveals the role of culture in the use of smartphones for leisure with a focus on the aspect of gender. The paper suggests that a localised understanding of smartphone usage patterns could contribute to enhance future design and policymaking and ensure maximum benefit for the end user.

10:10-11:10 Session 4A: Marginalised groups
Elinor Carmi (Liverpool University, UK)
Jessica van Thiel (University of Sussex, UK)
George Han (University of Sussex, UK)
Ralitsa Hiteva (University of Sussex, UK)
Connecting Lewes: developing an agile and inclusive strategy for digital inclusion

ABSTRACT. With many essential services (such as GP appointments and other support services) and social contact with neighbours, friends and families ‘going’ online during the pandemic, the ability of those most vulnerable, in the context of the pandemic, to use digital communications to meet essential needs has significantly varied across different age groups, genders and places. An informal partnership, of several community groups, networks, a local NHS GP practice, the local borough council and University of Sussex came together in Lewes, East Sussex, to better understand the different social and communication needs of elderly people in the town, as a starting point of developing its own digital inclusion strategy.

The group surveyed over 150 residents above the age of 55 to better understand if assistance with tablets, phones or computers is needed and has been helpful during the pandemic. The results uncovered a divide in motivation to use technology, whereby those who had limited access to internet or cited cost as a barrier to adoption were less likely to believe that technology could help to close the distance between friends and family. While understanding of technology decreases with age there was no corresponding drop off in motivation to use it, suggesting acquiring skills is the major barrier for the elderly.

Building on the survey and interviews with elderly users this paper maps the key divides and needs of digital inclusion in Lewes for over 55s and details a process of engagement with the local authority and service providers in developing a strategy for digital inclusion which treats the digital needs of older people as inseparable from the provision of local digital infrastructure and the ability of the local authority to develop an agile and inclusive response to the rapid shift in needs and digital skills in the town.

Barbara Nino Carreras (The IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
Brit Ross Winthereik (The IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
Digital Welfare for All? An Ethnographic Study on Informal Welfare Work and How Disabled People, Low-Income Citizens and their Families are Neglected in Denmark’s Digitalisation Tale

ABSTRACT. Even though web accessibility standards have been mandatory in Denmark since 2008, only in 2018 has the Danish state placed attention to monitoring compliance with the transposition of the EU’s Web Accessibility Directive to the Danish law. This has had an impact on the quality of digitalisation on a national scale. Recent reports show that many digital public services are not accessible to people with disabilities. This also affects people with limited access to hardware and software and people with language barriers. Despite a clear failure in creating accessible digital welfare infrastructures, the Danish state uses narratives that delegate the responsibility for non-use of digital public services on citizens’ bodies, minds and resources. Drawing on e-government literature and disability studies, we present an ethnographic study engaging with disabled people and people using a digital drop-in centre in Denmark. We argue that digitalisation strategies of the public sector need to pay attention to the ways digitalisation can both enable and disable citizens’ agency. Against this backdrop, our paper points out specific narratives and practices that limit our participants’ agency including compulsory regulation and regulatory gaps for specific kinds of disabilities and caring relationships. As a consequence of inaccessible services, we conceptualise informal welfare networks of community support around citizens who can’t access or use welfare services. These informal helpers, we argue, are shadows of Denmark’s digitalisation success. In addition, the paper maps out specific design and regulatory frameworks of digital welfare services that make the everyday of disabled citizens and their helpers burdensome. The paper informs policy work to find solutions that avoid that universal welfare services are at the mercy of digital transformation agendas that inconsistently pay attention to the needs of disabled citizens, low-income citizens, and their community through time.

Bingyu Chen (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)
Yi Zeng (Nanyang Technological University, China)
Lu Peng (Nanyang Technological University, China)
Difficulties Faced by Seniors Using Video-related Functions on Social Networking Applications During Pandemic and Requirements to Cover the Digital Gap

ABSTRACT. This study aims at finding out the challenges and difficulties that seniors are faced with when they are watching videos on social networking applications during the pandemic and uncover requirements to help them overcome such challenges and difficulties. Digital divide and digital inclusion theories focusing on seniors are employed in this study with some original reflections. The main subject of this study is WeChat, which is the most widely used social networking application in China. We employed cognitive walkthrough and interview as the main methodologies. Firstly, we went through all the screens seniors may use and list all the actions they may take when they are using the video-related functions. Then, we divided the actions into 13 tasks and figured out all the difficulties they may come across. Afterwards, we recruited 20 senior volunteers aged above 55 to complete the tasks and record the failure stories. Finally, we asked them some qualitative questions about the failure stories and their other problems they had regarding video-related function on social media during the pandemic. The difficulties and challenges faced by seniors are usually caused by physical problems (sight conditions and finger movement mainly), psychological problems (motivation, need, anxiety and being isolated) and cognitive (basic knowledge and digital literacy) problems, which are also caused for the digital divide. Combined with the results of interviews, we find the seniors can be described as "passive information seeker, but active information sharer" since they don't like searching but think they like sharing information with their network. They are more eager to learn new methods when they find their friends have already learnt and do not want to be left behind, which verified the social learning theory. However, they tend to believe the content shared by their network without critics. Finally, we put forward peer learning and community help as methods to tackle the challenges caused by the pandemic, which could also take effects in the long run.

James Beecher (Citizens On UK, UK)
Digital Exclusion and low income 50-70 year olds

ABSTRACT. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, people without access to the internet were already at a significant disadvantage in terms of seeking job opportunities, accessing financial support, and connecting with organisations. The pandemic has dramatically exacerbated this situation.

Citizens Online we commissioned by the Centre for Aging Better to understand more about the effect of COVID-19 on digital skills and usage. The research was conducted with a range of organisations, local authorities, and people aged 50-70.

The report finds that the key to building digital inclusion isn’t only about getting more people online, but also building skills and confidence.

National and local governments need to recognise and promote the crucial digital support offered by local organisations to combat widening digital inequalities. It's also important to recognise that many people still do not want to use the internet and want to continue using non-digital channels. v

10:10-11:10 Session 4B: Digital divides
Simeon Yates (Department of Communications and Media, UK)
Mona Lundin (University of Gothenburg, Sweden)
Margunn Aanestad (University of Agder, Norway)
Åsa Mäkitalo (University of Oslo, Norway)
Brit Ross Winthereik (IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
Digital Services in the Nordic Welfare States: what about the Partially Digital User?

ABSTRACT. The Nordic countries have pursued digitalization with a strong user-perspective and have provided self-service solutions within all welfare areas; social service, public education, and health care. However, as citizens engage in encounters with the welfare state through these services, it is increasingly clear that there are still unmet needs. The ongoing pandemic has in many ways heightened the crucial issues of digital inclusion, digital divides and data literacy. For instance, citizens who struggle with social, cognitive or health-related challenges may refrain from using the digital solutions put in place by the public authorities, or their agency as digital citizens remain partial as more or less extensive communicative support is required for them to access welfare services. In the Nordic project: Infrastructures for partially digital citizens: Supporting informal welfare work in the digitized state, from which this study reports preliminary findings, we refer to citizens, who need such informal support, as partially digital users. This notion is used to direct attention to the need for support in the face of digitalization. Our mapping of informal support work around digital services in three Nordic countries (Norway, Denmark and Sweden) will be used to inform and challenge public authorities’ design principles and practices. It may also generate socio-digital innovations that better will facilitate support from the network around the user. Currently, we conduct a comparison of how different national regulations condition digital participation. For instance, e-identifications (e-IDs) are a key gatekeeper for accessing digital infrastructures in all three countries. Booking a covid-test and/or a vaccination slot constitutes very concrete examples of how such e-IDs has become a structuring resource for digital inclusion/exclusion. Although the countries report on high levels of access to e-IDs, the numbers of citizens that need support in order to access public self-services is substantial and hidden statistics are assumed.

Asvatha Babu (American University, United States)
India’s #CovidSOS: Twitter as a Faulty Lifeline in the Fight Against Covid-19

ABSTRACT. In 2021, the deadly second wave of COVID-19 washed over India and saw more than 140,000 deaths just between March and May 2021. As the overwhelmed healthcare system buckled, tweets with urgent requests for hospital beds, oxygen, and prescription drugs filled timelines. Faced with the collapse of authoritative sources of help and information, Indians on Twitter got to work. They began connecting each other with requested resources, designing applications to make seeking help on Twitter easier, and organizing into groups to deliver the requested food, medicine, and oxygen on the ground. Twitter became an inadvertent lifeline in India’s fight against COVID-19.

Recent scholarship in crisis informatics and critical data studies have sought to critically analyze the role of social media in crisis management and response. As crisis response around the world becomes increasingly intermeshed with new media, the role of private companies and proprietary algorithms in shaping information and community becomes necessary to study. This is especially true when government involvement in crisis response is minimal, as was the case here in India. This paper addresses the question: what consequences arise with the displacement of government responsibilities during a crisis onto platforms, algorithms, and users?

Using the case of Twitter in the COVID-19 crisis response in India, this article explains: a) how differential levels of internet access, literacy, and social media reach has had deadly consequences; b) long-term privacy impacts of the publication of personal information on Twitter for COVID-related emergencies; c) the disproportionate dangers of publishing personal information (such as phone numbers), for women; d) the exacerbation of the extant misinformation problem; e) and finally, how this community-driven model of covid management has meant the dilution of regulatory protections on high-risk subjects such as the exchange of medical information, and the prices and quality of medical commodities.

Josie Barnard (De Montfort University, UK)
Deploying creativity to enable ‘future-proofing’ digital upskilling: a case study

ABSTRACT. This paper presents findings from COVID lockdown-specific empirical research conducted with staff at charities/NGOs that work with digitally excluded citizens. The practice intervention addressed a key ‘hidden’ challenge of digital exclusion: the fact that no one discrete digital skill can – due to the sheer pace of technological change – be sure to last. Creativity is key to digital skills acquisition that 'future-proofs' (Barnard, 2019). Pre-COVID, how to teach creativity that enables ‘future-proofing’ (i.e. sustainable and resilient) digital skills acquisition with measurable effectiveness was a significant gap. This gap was filled by Barnard via extensive empirical testing in Barnard's home discipline (Creative Writing) utilising face-to-face delivery 2012 to 2019 (Barnard, 2019). During 2020-2021 COVID lockdowns, a new problem associated with mandated home working was how to deliver effective digital upskilling remotely. Between May 2020 and May 2021, a small scale longitudinal study (supported by DCMS) was conducted to address the following research problem: can a version of Barnard’s method of teaching creativity, which enables digital upskilling with measurable effectiveness via a single assignment (Barnard, 2019, pp. 85-89), be delivered remotely beyond the home discipline, specifically, to select staff at small NGOs/charities who work with digitally excluded citizens? As well as presenting an account of and emergent findings from the study, this paper provides recommendations to support and inform future policy/programme development in the digital inclusion field. Main benefits of the study are: improved clarity, accuracy and usefulness of our narrative on the role of creativity in digital skills acquisition; template that can enable a wider ‘roll out’ to help staff at small NGOs/charities that work with digitally excluded citizens, and their clients, manage their well-being and survival.

Michael Dezuanni (Queensland University of Technology, Australia)
Marcus Foth (Queensland University of Technology, Australia)
Jenny Kennedy (RMIT University, Australia)
Amber Marshall (Queensland University of Technology, Australia)
Anthony McCosker (Swinburne University of Technology, Australia)
Peta Mitchell (Queensland University of Technology, Australia)
Tanya Notley (Western Sydney University, Australia)
Kim Osman (Queensland University of Technology, Australia)
Digital inclusion for low income families in Australia: Policy and community responses to learning at home during the COVID-19 pandemic

ABSTRACT. The sudden switch to learning exclusively at home during the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the extent of low levels of digital inclusion for many low-income and socially disadvantaged families and children in Australia. Many students and families struggled with access to, and the affordability of, devices and data, along with having the required digital skills and mentoring to learn at home. The Australian Government recognises that “socially vulnerable children are over-represented among the group of students who are educationally vulnerable” and the Australian Digital Inclusion Index shows there is a “substantial digital divide between richer and poorer Australians” (Thomas et al., 2020). This combination of digital and social disadvantage has far-reaching consequences for the educational outcomes of children from low income families in Australia. Additionally, as social, government, education and commercial services move rapidly towards ‘digital by default,’ digital inclusion and in particular, digital ability, are critical for social and economic participation in society (Dezuanni et. al., 2018; Al-Muwil, et al. 2019). The proposed paper therefore presents an overview and critique of Australian policy responses to children’s education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing on early data from the Australian Research Council-funded project, Advancing digital inclusion in low income Australian families, we also discuss selected community responses to address digital exclusion among low income families with school-aged children when learning moved from schools to homes during COVID-19 lockdowns. The paper discusses how these responses, in light of policy and funding priorities, may inform future programs, practices and policies that improve the digital inclusion of children from low income families.

14:00-15:00 Session 10A: Youth literacy
Simeon Yates (Department of Communications and Media, UK)
Cigdem Bozdag (University of Groningen & University of Bremen, Netherlands)
Digital inclusion through dissemination of iPads during the Covid19 pandemic? A participatory action research in a German secondary school

ABSTRACT. Existing research on digital inclusion and digital inequalities points out to existing social inequalities in relation to gender, socio-economic disadvantages and cultural backgrounds (Helsper & Livingstone, 2007; van Deursen and van Dijk, 2013). The Covid19 pandemic crystallized and partly strengthened these inequalities. Adopting an in intersectional approach, this paper presents a contextualized analysis of how a secondary school in a culturally very diverse and socio-economically disadvantaged secondary school in Bremen, Germany adapted to distance education based on the participatory action research project INCLUDED (MSCA, University of Bremen, 2019-2023). The fieldwork of the project continued for a year (before and after the outbreak of the COVID19 pandemic). The research design of the project includes participatory observations (online and offline), interviews with the teachers and focus-groups with the students as well as development and carrying out of teaching content together with the teachers of the school. The paper will firstly present how the teachers and students of the researched school adopted to the different phases of the pandemic between March 2020 and January 2021 focusing on the inequalities in the distant learning environments of the students. Secondly, the paper will discuss the impact of the dissemination of iPads to the students of the state of Bremen in order to mitigate the effects of unequal access to digital technologies and the internet on learning during the pandemic. The researched school was a pilot school for the iPad project and the research data includes focus groups before and after the distribution of the iPads to the students. The paper will argue that the quick dissemination of hardware to all the students was an important contribution to the improvement of their distance learning experiences. However, there were other factors such as lack of adequate learning spaces, lack of support and reduced well-being and lack of concentration that hindered students from actively participating in distant education.

Luísa Aires (Universidade Aberta (Portugal), Portugal)
Catarina Nunes (Universidade Aberta (Portugal), Portugal)
Lúcia Amante (Universidade Aberta (Portugal), Portugal)
Online Distance Education and Internet Skills: Student Perceptions

ABSTRACT. In the last decades of the 20th century, universities expanded the possibilities of access to higher education and contributed to the diversification of the profiles of the students who attend them (Sánchez-Gelabert, Valente & Duarte, 2020). In case of distance education universities, they have been playing an active role in the democratization of access to higher levels of education, as well as in promoting digital skills. In distance education universities, digital competences have a crucial role in the students’ integration in the virtual campus and in their academic success (Mohammadyari & Singh, 2015). The agenda for digital skills in the 21st century (Voogt & Roblin, 2012; Salas-Pilco, 2013; Soule & Warrick, 2015, Voogt & Erstad, 2018) and the accelerated digital transition in Covid-19 times added new challenges into the process of transformation within Universities. The growing number of Open Educational Resources, MOOC, online graduate and post-graduate training programs and, above all, the abrupt adoption and widespread use of the Internet in our daily communication routines realign our understanding of digital inequalities as a factor of social exclusion (Dijk, 2017; Helsper, van Deursen & Eynon, 2015 ; Helsper, 2019; van Laar, van Deursen, van Dijk & de Haan, 2020). The main goal of this research is to analyze the perceptions of a sample of 327 students about their uses of Internet and the benefits they gather when they are using it. In this presentation we discuss the partial results of a questionnaire adapted from van Deursen, Helsper, Eynon and van Dijk (2017), so that we can better understand the uses of the Internet and also the benefits those students reap when they are using it.

Lucie Römer (Charles University, Czechia)
Through Media and Digital Literacy Education towards Civic Participation of Disadvantaged Youth

ABSTRACT. Using digital media towards citizen participation of youth has been a highly current topic, see for example FridaysForFuture. There is a number of theoretical studies that hope for media literacy education to increase also the citizen participation (such as Mc Dougal, 2013 or Mihailidis & Thevenin, 2013). However, empirical research focused on such pedagogical projects related to disadvantaged children is limited (Kotilainen, 2009).

In 2019, a set of innovative media literacy education methods, which had been developed to increase interest, knowledge, and skills of civic participation among the Czech socio-economically disadvantaged youth was tested at a vocational high school. The methods followed the paths of action research, of critical media literacy (Freire, 2005), and of the citizen model of media education (Hobbs, 2010).

17 students of the vocational school in a small town Louny, located in an industrial, lower-income area, participated in a massive public happening in autumn 2019, during which they presented a political topic of their choice. They also communicated the topic to the public and mass media using both on-line and off-line tools.

A large set of ethnographic multimodal data was gathered in this 4-month project. The results are ready to be presented in the conference paper, accompanied by rich visual material (photos, charts). The findings strongly argue for long-term media literacy education, they present challenges of media interventions when working with vulnerable youth and question the thesis that media literacy education automatically leads (or should have the ambition to lead) to an increase of citizen participation. The report focuses on the options and limits of media education towards increasing the citizen participation of disadvantaged youth in the Czech Republic, investigating the options for digital divide reduction. However, the findings are of international relevance.

References FREIRE, P. (2005) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. HOBBS, R. (2010) Digital and Media Literacy: A plan of Action. Washington, DC: Aspen Institute (available at: https://assets.aspeninstitute.org/content/uploads/2010/11/Digital_and_Media_Literacy.pdf) [cited: 11-5-2020]. KOTILAINEN, S. (2009) Promoting Youth Civic Participation with Media Production: The Case of Youth. Voice Editorial Board In: Comunicar XVI (32), p. 243 – 259. MCDOUGAL, J. (2013) Media Literacy: An incomplete project. In B.S. De Abreu & P. Mihailidis (Eds.) Media Literacy Education in Action. New York: Routledge. MIHAILIDIS, P., THEVENIN, B. (2013) Media Literacy as a Core Competency for Engaged Citizenship in Participatory Democracy. In: American Behavioral Scientist 57(11) Sage. p.1611– 1622.

Alicja Pawluczuk (United Nations University, Germany)
European Digital Youth Work and the Covid-19 pandemic: what’s next?

ABSTRACT. As the coronavirus (COVID19) lockdown measures were imposed in Europe in 2020, youth workers have played crucial roles as moderators between young people, society, the pandemic - and digital technologies. The urgency of staying connected, informed, and entertained meant that digital youth work has emerged as a critical practice to continue to work and support young people. Digital youth work, the term mostly used in Europe (Harvey, 2016; Kiviniemi & Touvimen, 2017), is perceived as a vital part of youth engagement practices and defined as an area of youth work that implements digital technologies to enhance outcomes of youth centred initiatives (Harvey, 2017).

Global policymakers have called for a multilateral approach to protect the future of the “COVID-19 generation” and fight back any unpredicted issues that might arise during and post-pandemic (UNESCO, 2020). It is clear that youth workers have been at the forefront of the battlefield right from its start. All across Europe (and beyond) youth workers utilised available digital tools and skills to keep in touch with young people, to make them feel safe, valued and connected to their communities. In other words, youth workers had no choice but to become moderators between young people, society, the pandemic, and digital technologies

How has COVID-19 affected youth work in Europe? What are some of the lessons that we learnt about digital youth work during the pandemic? And finally, what support do we need to make digital youth work sustainable post-COVID? The aim of this article is to address these questions and propose practice-based and policy recommendations for the European digital youth work. The analysis presented in this paper is based on the outcomes of an open-ended survey with European digital youth workers (n=99) and three youth-workers online focus groups (28 participants).

14:00-15:00 Session 10B: Media literacy during Covid-19
Elinor Carmi (Liverpool University, UK)
Shandell Houlden (Royal Roads University, Canada)
Chandell Gosse (Royal Roads University, Canada)
Jaigris Hodson (Royal Roads University, Canada)
Mitigating misinformation: Understanding the need for relational approaches

ABSTRACT. Misinformation is a leading concern in the digital ecosystem (O’Connor and Weatherall, 2019). Responses to this problem have been varied, focusing on digital and media literacy, critical thinking education, calls for platform regulation, and policy interventions (Donovan et al., 2021). Underpinning many of these strategies is the assumption that providing people with the tools and skills to better navigate information, alongside improved regulation of information ecosystems, will help reduce both misinformation itself, as well as the negative impacts. These approaches also rest on the assumption that people will want to and need to continue engaging with large volumes of digital information, necessitating that a solution to misinformation is achieved in the same ecosystem that produced the problem (Philips and Milner, 2021). Of course, there are good reasons for this assumption: the massive amounts of information generated, extracted, and commodified is not going away any time soon. However, given the scale of the problems that misinformation poses, there are grounds to argue that we radically rethink how we interact with information, why we interact with that information, and for whose benefit these interactions take place. Indigenous scholars have already recognized this, as “Indigenous epistemologies do not take abstraction or generalization as a natural good” (Lewis et al., 2018, p. 3), which stands in contradistinction to Western models of information accumulation. It is here that we propose that any response to misinformation that does not understand information as contingent on multiple kinds of relations, risks reinforcing what we identify as a colonial discourse already operational at the heart of technophilic discourse. As Ricaurte (2019) argues, “historical, local, and decolonial perspective[s] should unmask how the uneven distributions of power materialize” in harmful ways online, including digital colonization and algorithmic violence. By turning the conversation away from mitigating harm—with literacy, education, and regulation—and toward the uneven distribution of power, dominance, and ethics embedded in the information itself, this paper aims to open a new pathway for thinking about the problem of misinformation.

References: Donovan, Joan., Friedberg, Brian., Lim, Gabrielle., Leaver, Nicole., Nilsen, Jennifer Leaver., and Dreyfuss, Emily. (2021). Mitigating medical misinformation: A whole-of-society approach to countering spam, scams, and hoaxes. Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center. https://mediamanipulation.org/sites/default/files/2021-03/Mitigating-Medical-Misinformation-March-29-2021_0.pdf

Lewis, Jason Edward., Arista, Noelani., Pechawis, Archer., and Kite, Suzanne. (2018). Making kin with machines. Journal of Design and Science, 1-18. DOI: 10.21428/bfafd97b

O’Connor, Cailin., and Weatherall, James Owen. (2019). The misinformation age: How false beliefs spread. Yale University Press.

Philips, Whitney, and Milner, Ryan. (2021). You are here: A field guide for navigating polarized speech, conspiracy theories, and our polluted media landscape. MIT Press.

Ricaurte, Paola. (2019). Data epistemologies, the coloniality of power, and resistance. Television & New Media, 20(4), 350-365. DOI: 10.1177/1527476419831640

Elena Musi (University of Liverpool, UK)
Myrto Aloumpi (University of Liverpool, UK)
Developing misinformation immunity: How to become your own fact-checker in a human computer interaction environment

ABSTRACT. One of the major challenges of the current information ecosystem is the rapid spread of misinformation through digital media. Even though unintentionally dangerous, misinformation has a wide societal impact: 59% of fake news do not contain neither fabricated nor imposter content, but rather reconfigured misinformation (Brennen et al., 2020), which proliferates through social media, the main source of news for infodemically vulnerable citizens. However, the identification of misinformation is far from being successfully addressed by human fact-checkers, let alone automatic ones due to the lack of a common truth barometer that hinders the creation of datasets to train automatic systems. We believe that what makes these types of news ‘fake’ is not the mere truth of the information conveyed, but the fallacious way of presenting the arguments they contain through false analogies, hasty generalizations, and cherry picking of information (Musi and Reed, under review). In our UKRI funded project Being Alone Together: Developing Fake News Immunity (https://fakenewsimmunity.liverpool.ac.uk/), we propose to counter misinformation providing citizens with the means to act as their own fact-checkers to avoid creating and spreading misleading news. Drawing from the multi-level annotation of a dataset of 1500 COVID-19 related news web-crawled from 5 English fact-checkers, we propose a systematic procedure to identify fallacious arguments across different digital media sources and type of claims (e.g. predictions, interpretations). Leveraging the outcomes of data analysis we built two chatbots that we would like to present at the symposium, the Fake News Immunity Chatbot (http://fni.arg.tech/) and the Vaccinating News Chatbot (http://fni.arg.tech/?chatbot_type=vaccine), respectively targeting citizens and communication gatekeepers.

Musi, E. & Reed, C. (2021). From fallacies to semi-fake news: improving the identification of misinformation triggers across digital media, unpublished manuscript under review. Brennen, J. Scott, Felix Simon, Philip N. Howard, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen. Types, sources, and claims of COVID-19 misinformation. Reuters Institute 7 (2020): 3-1. Carmi, E., Musi, E. & Aloumpi, M., 2021. The rule of truth: how fallacies can help stem the Covid-19 infodemic. Impact of Social Sciences Blog.

Grant Blank (University of Oxford, UK)
Bianca C. Reisdorf (University of North Carolina, Charlotte, United States)
Digital inequalities, media dependency, and willingness to be vaccinated

ABSTRACT. Media systems dependency (MSD) theory posits that for people to achieve certain goals they must be able to access different types of media (Ball-Rokeach, 1998). Increased media needs occur in crisis situations, such as conflict or social change, or a pandemic (Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur, 1976). Prior work demonstrates that trust in mass media and alternative information resources affects MSD in individuals (Whaley & Tucker, 2004). In addition, access to alternative information sources may be linked to digital inequalities: if individuals have less access or lower internet skills, they may struggle to access alternative information sources and depend more on traditional mass media. Controlling for socio-demographic factors, this paper examines how digital inequalities—such as lower internet skills and less internet use—and trust in media are related to the use of different types of media, and how this, in turn, affects individuals’ willingness to be vaccinated against the covid-19 disease. Using cross-sectional online survey data collected from 2,000 British internet users in late October and early November 2020, we ran OLS regressions and ordinal logit models. The results show that ability to use the Internet is negatively related to willingness to be vaccinated, while trust in media and use of TV as an information source is positively related. We discuss these relationships in the context of the British experience with covid-19 and the British vaccination effort.


Ball-Rokeach, S. J. (1998). A theory of media power and a theory of media use: Different stories, questions, and ways of thinking. Mass Communication and Society, 1(1-2), 5-40.

Ball-Rokeach, S. J. & DeFleur, M. L. (1976). A dependency model of mass-media effects. Communication Research, 3(1), 3-21.

Whaley, S. R., & Tucker, M. (2004). The influence of perceived food risk and source trust on media system dependency. Journal of Applied Communications, 88(1), 9-27.

Anna Feigenbaum (Bournemouth University, UK)
Julian McDougall (Bournemouth University, UK)
Alexandra Alberda (Bournemouth University, UK)
Comics for Data Literacy & Public Health: Lessons from COVID-19

ABSTRACT. During COVID-19 our pandemic lives became deeply entwined with health data and data visualizations. From instructional hand-washing infographics, to calls to 'flatten the curve,' data visualisations were telling us how to live, and predicting our possible futures. How we make sense of this data and the visualisation of public health, and our own meaning-making practices in this information environment, raises important questions for what it now means to be literate.

Alongside authorial information graphics produced by the world’s biggest health organisations and newspapers, citizens and artists also leveraged data visualisation conventions to create their own artistic representations of public health messages, often making them more approachable, accessible and relatable. Tackling everything from understanding the significance of rising R numbers, to appropriate methods of mask wearing, to being on guard for misinformation, these amateur ‘data comics’ were shared across social media to thousands of followers each day. At their best, these comics amplified public health messages, increased information comprehension, helped prompt behaviour change and foster social empathy.

In this presentation we share preliminary findings from our UKRI/AHRC COVID-19 Rapid Response grant ‘Comics in the time of COVID-19’ drawing lessons from a sample of over 15,000 coded web-comics distributed on Instagram between March 2020 and March 2021. Our analysis looks both at artistic and storytelling elements in these web-comics, as well as at approaches to health, media and information literacies in order to inform best practice among a range of key stakeholders. Supported by this large-scale, evidence-based analysis, we argue that integrating data and comics in ways that humanise health experiences can be a powerful tool for enhancing public health communications, understanding the literacy repertories citizens now need to interpret media, information and data and the benefits of this new knowledge for improving health equity.

15:10-16:10 Session 12A: Policy interventions during Covid-19
Elinor Carmi (Liverpool University, UK)
Bernadette Califano (CONICET, University of Buenos Aires, National University of Quilmes, Argentina)
Martín Becerra (CONICET, National University of Quilmes, Argentina)
Digital inequalities and policy interventions in Latin America after the outbreak of COVID-19

ABSTRACT. The aim of this paper is to analyze policy interventions to address digital inequalities in five different Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico) during the first three months after the outbreak of COVID-19 reached the region (March-June 2020). The mentioned countries have been chosen for two main reasons. First, as they are the biggest in the region terms of population, economies and per capita gross product (ECLAC 2019). Second, because they have exhibited responses to all the variables proposed for the analysis: a) access and continuity of connectivity services; b) traffic, data consumption and content; c) infrastructure, network management and radio spectrum; and d) compensations for telecommunications companies. The study draws on an analysis of the set of regulations and specific policy-making actions introduced in the field of connectivity in the countries under review, as well as official documents prepared by the public sector, particularly by the telecommunications ministries and regulatory bodies in each country. It also draws on documents from the private sector, and statistics on ICT access and usage in the region. The main argument is put forward that Latin American governments responded quickly to the spike in demand for connectivity posed by the context of the pandemic, partly because they had learned from what had happened in other latitudes, and partly because of the legacy of public policies resulting from previous experiences in the sector. However, the digital divides that persisted from previous structural inequalities lessened the impact of the actions implemented during the first months of the pandemic. Likewise, these actions revealed that inequalities tend to increase, as a digitally underserved segment of the population becomes deprived of access to education, health information, entertainment, and work-from-home services in their various forms in this context.

Hortense Jongen (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Jan Aart Scholte (Leiden University, Netherlands)
Inequality and Legitimacy in Global Internet Governance – An Empirical Study of ICANN

ABSTRACT. How far do perceptions of inequalities affect legitimacy beliefs toward multistakeholder global governance? “Multistakeholderism” promises inclusive participation for all affected constituencies and stakeholders, but how does it work out in practice? Through a case study of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), we study the relationship between perceptions of unequal influence (regarding age, ethnicity/race, gender, geopolitics, and language) and legitimacy beliefs. Specifically, we ask three questions: 1) How far do participants in ICANN perceive structural inequalities in this regime? 2) How far do these actors regard such inequalities to be problematic for ICANN? 3) How far do these perceptions of unequal influence affect legitimacy beliefs toward ICANN?

ICANN is an interesting and apt case to study inequality in global Internet governance. Digital access crucially shapes inequality in contemporary society (so-called ‘digital divides’), and ICANN’s rules on domain names and Internet numbers substantially shape who gets online and on what terms. Moreover, through the years ICANN has given painstaking attention to cultivating inclusion and addressing structural inequalities in its operations and impact.

Evidence for our analysis comes from mixed-methods survey interviews with 467 participants in ICANN. We find that, on average, respondents do perceive notable power hierarchies in this multistakeholder apparatus, which they generally regard to be “moderately” or “quite” problematic. Respondents on the presumed subordinated sides of the power hierarchies generally perceive larger and more problematic inequalities than persons on the presumed dominant sides. However, with one exception (relating to geopolitical North-South hierarchy), perceptions of inequalities do not significantly relate to participants’ legitimacy beliefs. Instead, we find that find that participants at ICANN generally prioritize other issues, such as ICANN’s technical functions and problem-solving effectiveness.

Irene Mackintosh (University of the West of Scotland and Mhor Collective, UK)
Aaron Slater (SCVO, UK)
Connecting Scotland: Delivering Digital Inclusion at Scale

ABSTRACT. In March 2020, The Scottish Government launched Connecting Scotland, an immediate multi-agency emergency response to address the impact of digital inequality exacerbated by the sweeping Covid19 pandemic.

This response, one of the largest in Europe, was led by the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations, working in partnership with hundreds of voluntary organisations to distribute devices, unlimited data and support from trusted intermediaries, primarily frontline staff, who acted as ‘digital champions’, embedding digital skills into wider, holistic support.

In the first phase of work, 9000 digitally excluded individuals received support through Connecting Scotland. Phase Two supported a further 23,000 individuals, with an overall reach of 50,000 people by the end of 2021. The project has also distributed connected devices to every care home in Scotland to enable residents to participate in the online world.

This paper presents Connecting Scotland as a case study, highlighting the correlation between current research into digital inequality to identify those most in need of support, and the practical application of work to address this at scale through third sector organisations working directly with those at greatest risk of digital exclusion.

The paper also considers the vital role of the ‘trusted intermediary’ acting as digital champion for device recipients, and, using the data gathered via sessions with hundreds of frontline staff, explore immediate challenges and opportunities for engagement. It will also reflect on the application of research in the creation of training and resources to support the programme.

Finally the paper will reflect on some of the many lessons learned, and consider implications for both policy-makers and fieldworkers seeking to address digital inequality at scale.

Both authors were involved extensively in the development and delivery of this work.

Massimo Ragnedda (Northumbria University, UK)
Maria Laura Ruiu (Northumbria University, UK)
Felice Addeo (University of Salerno, Italy)
The Internet as a tool for social inclusivity

ABSTRACT. Since an increasing number of daily activities are carried out online, an exclusion or a limited access to the Internet prevents citizens from entering a world full of opportunities that cannot be accessed otherwise. In this sense, inclusion in the digital realm is strictly connected to social inclusion. Digital Inclusion is not conceived as a mere dichotomy - access versus no access - but in terms of the degree to which e-inclusion improve wellbeing for individuals, community, and society. Using a quantitative method based on a multivariate analysis, multiple correspondence analysis and cluster analysis, applied to a representative sample of UK online citizens, the research sheds light onto the gradual process of digital inclusion. Our analysis shows the different ways the Internet is used by individuals to increase their “social inclusion” and how, despite their access to the Internet, those people at risk of social exclusion are more likely to lack the digital experience necessary to fully exploit the possibilities the Internet can offer. By contrast, those who tend to obtain more benefits from the use of the Internet are, on average, young, well-educated and with a higher income, thus reinforcing their already privileged social positions. By highlighting how different levels of digital inclusion are related to socioeconomic and sociodemographic features, this research contributes to reinforcing the idea that offline social structures and practices influence individuals’ ability to use digital technologies as an empowering tool of social inclusion. Vulnerable citizens, even when they access to the Internet, tend to not fully exploit the benefits offered by it, missing the opportunity to use the Internet as a tool of social inclusivity. The results of this research might help policy makers to identify where they should intervene, which areas need more attention and which lack of digital competences need to be mitigated.

15:10-16:10 Session 12B: Data/internet practices during Covid-19
Simeon Yates (Department of Communications and Media, UK)
João Estevens (Instituto de Ciências Sociais, University of Lisbon, Portugal)
Jussara Rowland (Instituto de Ciências Sociais, University of Lisbon, Portugal)
Mónica Truninger (Instituto de Ciências Sociais, University of Lisbon, Portugal)
Ana Delicado (Instituto de Ciências Sociais, University of Lisbon, Portugal)
Internet uses in pandemic times: (new) practices and perceptions

ABSTRACT. The experience of the COVID 19 pandemic and the mitigation measures that were implemented to contain its spread have changed citizens’ use of the internet significantly. Many were forced to innovate their practices, i.e. they have experienced for the first time services and forms of work, education, food consumption, leisure and entertainment, interpersonal communication and online access to public services. However, these changes were more significant among users who did not use the Internet as much before the pandemic than those who were already intensive users. For the latter, changes in their uses of the internet were not so visible - some even mentioned they were using it less due to saturation. In this communication we draw on results from a Public Consultation “We the Internet” conducted in Portugal in October 2020, at the beginning of the second wave. In particular, we focus on seventeen discussions where participants with diverse profiles addressed the pandemic impact on their use of the internet. Based on a thematic qualitative analysis, we consider how these changes affected people differently (based on their family composition, types of work, age, digital literacy, etc.). We also consider how previous personal orientations to internet uses are influenced and transformed by the impacts of lockdowns and social distancing, understanding how citizens make sense of the increasing role of the internet in their lives.

Laura Robinson (SCU and Harvard Berkman Center, United States)
Jeremy Schulz (UC Berkeley, United States)
Oyvind Wiborg (University of Oslo, Norway)
Elisha Johnston (UCLA, United States)
Digital Inequality and the COVID Connection: Charting Pandemic Anxiety, COVID-19 Comprehension, and Digital Confidence as Emergent Forms of Digital Vulnerability

ABSTRACT. This research examines an emergent form of digital inequality vis-à-vis the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. We present logistic models examining how pandemic anxiety and COVID-19 comprehension vary with digital confidence among American adults at two time intervals: 1) during the first wave of the pandemic and 2) at the beginning of the second wave of COVID-19 in the U.S. As we demonstrate statistically with a nationally representative data set from Pew Research Center, the digitally confident have lower probability of experiencing physical manifestations of pandemic anxiety and higher probability of adequately comprehending critical information on COVID-19. The effects of digital confidence on both pandemic anxiety and COVID-19 comprehension persist, even after a broad range of potentially confounding factors are taken into account, including sociodemographic factors such as age, gender, race/ethnicity, metropolitan status, and partner status. They also remain discernable after the introduction of general anxiety, as well as income and education. These results offer evidence that the digitally disadvantaged experience greater vulnerability to the secondary effects of the pandemic in the form of increased somatized stress and decreased COVID-19 comprehension. Going forward, future research and policy must make an effort to address digital confidence and digital inequality writ large as crucial factors mediating individuals’ responses to the pandemic and future crises.

Jeremy Schulz (UC Berkeley (Please see PDF for list of all authors from four continents. Thank you!), United States)
Hiroshi Ono (Hitotsubashi University Business School, Japan)
Matias Dodel (Universidad Católica del Uruguay, Uruguay)
Gejun Huang (Soochow University, China)
Taxonomies of Digital Vulnerability and COVID-19 Exposure Risk Profiles

ABSTRACT. In this article, we build upon our previous work “Digital inequalities in time of pandemic: COVID-19 exposure risk profiles and new forms of vulnerability” to examine two time intervals in the COVID-19 pandemic: the first wave in the late spring/early summer of 2020 and one year later at the onset of mass vaccination. We compare the two time intervals to chart the impact of digital inequalities across one year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using the CERPs typology (see PDF), we argue that new kinds of risk have emerged with the COVID-19 virus, and that these risks continue to be unequally distributed. As we expose to view, digital inequalities and social inequalities continue to render certain subgroups significantly more vulnerable to exposure to COVID-19. Vulnerable populations bearing disproportionate risks include the social isolated, older adults, penal system subjects, digitally disadvantaged students, gig workers, and last-mile workers. Therefore, we map out the intersection between COVID-19 risk factors and digital inequalities on each of these populations in order to examine how the digitally resourced have additional tools to mitigate some of the risks associated with the pandemic. We shed light on how the ongoing pandemic is deepening key axes of social differentiation, which were previously occluded from view. These newly manifested forms of social differentiation can be conceived along several related dimensions. At their most general and abstract, these risks have to do with the capacity individuals have to control the risk of pathogen exposure. In order to fully manage exposure risk, individuals must control their physical environment to the greatest extent possible in order to prevent contact with potentially compromised physical spaces. In addition, they must control their social interactional environment to the greatest extent possible in order to minimize their contacts with potentially infected individuals. All else equal, those individuals who exercise more control over their exposure risk — on the basis of their control over their physical and social interactional environments — stand a better chance of staying healthy than those individuals who cannot manage exposure risk. Individuals therefore vary in terms of what we call their COVID-19 exposure risk profile (CERPs). CERPs hinge on preexisting forms of social differentiation such as socioeconomic status, as individuals with more economic resources at their disposal can better insulate themselves from exposure risk. Alongside socioeconomic status, one of the key forms of social differentiation connected with CERPs is digital (dis)advantage. Ceteris paribus, individuals who can more effectively digitize key parts of their lives enjoy better CERPs than individuals who cannot digitize these life realms. Therefore, we show that, both during the first wave of the pandemic and one year later, that digital inequalities are directly and increasingly related to both life-or-death exposure to COVID-19, as well as excess deaths attributable to the larger conditions generated by the pandemic. Authors span four continents: Jeremy Schulz, Hiroshi Ono, Matías Dodel, Gejun Huang, Antonio A. Casilli, Paola Tubaro, Laura Robinson, Aneka Khilnani, Shelia R. Cotton, Noah McClain, Lloyd Levine, Wenhong Chen, Anabel Quan-Haase, Deb Aikat, Maria Laura Ruiu, and Massimo Ragnedda.

Stacey Wedlake (University of Washington, United States)
Kathleen Carson (Seattle Jobs Initiative, United States)
Yvette Iribe Ramirez (University of Washington, United States)
Elodie Marlet (Seattle Jobs Initiative, United States)
David Keyes (City of Seattle, United States)
Matthew Hougton (City of Seattle, United States)
“Help is really necessary”: Case study of a technology distribution program for unemployed workers

ABSTRACT. Pre-pandemic, some job training incorporated technology access and digital literacy development for low-income job seekers but these were often neglected parts of programs and services. COVID-19 made them essential components and drove the rapid development and implementation of digital access efforts. Digital Bridge, created in partnership with local government and employment services nonprofits, launched in July 2020. The program distributed 193 refurbished laptops and 174 internet hotspots; recipients also had access to Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment, curriculum, and a technical support phone line.

This case study details the process and lessons learned from a technology access and skills program launched in Washington State, USA for individuals enrolled in job training programs and career navigation services funded by the federal government. We conducted a mixed-methods study to understand Digital Bridge recipient needs and program impacts. Upon enrollment, participants filled out a survey and took a digital skills assessment. 15 of these also completed a series of audio diaries and interviews to share about their technology use. Four case managers completed audio diaries and participated in a focus group to give feedback on the program.

This study illuminates the complete ecosystem of service support needed for participant success, the role and challenges of public and private sector support, and the requirements to integrate a digital skills and access program while protecting participant privacy. The Digital Bridge program put additional demand on and skills required of case managers and highlighted the importance of personal relationships for those needing to access technology assistance and support. We found that technology distribution programs and remote job training and other services need digital literacy support and training for both participants and case managers.