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Wednesday, July 13 • 10:46 - 12:15
Differentiated Facebook use in the context of digital inequality

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - LG01, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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Contributor: Fanny Ramirez, Rutgers University, United States


Studies on Internet use tend to cast a wide net and examine how different social groups use the web at large rather than how they use specific websites or applications. Such research has been very valuable in establishing how social inequalities, broadly, are carried over online, but they do not tell us where on the Internet user practices are more likely or less likely to be influenced by sociodemographic factors. 


This paper addresses this gap in knowledge by examining the sociodemographic factors (sex, race, and socioeconomic status) that predict the likelihood of using Facebook for: 1) Keeping up with the news and current events: 2) receiving updates and comments from the people in one’s network; and 3) receiving support from the people in one’s network. The paper focuses on what factors predict whether individuals identify one or more of these uses as a major reason for why they use the social network site. Looking at the reasons why different social groups use Facebook is important because many studies have linked social media use to benefits such as increased social capital, greater social involvement, political awareness, and opportunities for democratic deliberations (Ellison, Vitak, Gray, & Lampe, 2014; Gil de Zúñiga, 2012; Halperm & Gibbs, 2013; Ledbetter, Mazer, DeGroot, Meyer, Mao, & Swafford, 2011; Warren, Sulaiman, & Jaafar, 2014). 


The data for this study were collected in 2013 as part of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Random digit dialing was used to obtain a nationally representative sample of 1,800 Americans. The relationship of sex, race, and socioeconomic status on the importance of using Facebook to keep up with the news and current events, receive updates and comments, and receive support is assessed through multivariate logistic regression analyses. Age, frequency of Facebook use, number of Facebook friends, and political engagement are used as control variables. 


Contrary to the findings from previous studies about the relationship between race, socioeconomic status, and online news consumption, results indicate that blacks are more likely than whites to claim that accessing news is a major reason for why they use Facebook. Additionally, individuals with a higher socioeconomic status were found to be less likely than individuals with only a high school education to report using Facebook for this purpose. These findings suggest that Facebook appeals to less privileged groups and racial minorities and that the website is helping bridge the digital divide in online news consumption. As for using Facebook to stay in touch with family and friends, results show that sex is not a predictor of citing receiving updates and comments as a major reason for using Facebook. However, consistent with findings on gendered social support practices online and in interpersonal contexts, results show that women have much higher odds than men of reporting that receiving support is a major reason for why they use Facebook. Although no significant gender differences were found in people’s motivation for using Facebook to get updates and comments from friends and family members, results indicate that receiving support is one form of online activity where gender differences persist. 

Future Work:

The finding that African Americans are much more likely than whites to cite keeping up with the news as a major reason for why they use Facebook raises interesting questions about the current state of the digital divide. Future research should look at how sociodemographic factors influence user practices across multiple websites and applications to see where and how certain patterns of inequality emerge and disappear. 


Ellison, N., Vitak, J., Gray, R.., & Lampe, C. (2014). Cultivating social resources on social network sites: Facebook relationship maintenance behaviors and their role in social capital processes. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 19, 855-870. doi:10.1111/jcc4.12078 
Gil de Zúñiga, H. (2012). Social media use for news and individuals' social capital, civic engagement and political participation. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 17, 319-336. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2012.01574.x 
Halpern, D., & Gibbs, J. (2013). Social media as a catalyst for online deliberation? Exploring the affordances of Facebook and YouTube for political expression. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1159-1168. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.10.008 
Ledbetter, A. M., Mazer, J. P., DeGroot, J. M., Meyer, K. R., Mao, Y., & Swafford, B. (2011). 
Attitudes toward online social connection and self-disclosure as predictors of Facebook communication and relational closeness. Communication Research, 38, 27-53. 
Warren, A. M., Sulaiman, A., & Jaafar, N. I. (2014). Facebook: The enabler of online civic engagement for activists. Computers in Human Behavior, 32, 284-289. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.12.017  

Wednesday July 13, 2016 10:46 - 12:15 UTC
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - LG01 Goldsmiths University, Building 2