I recently had a chance to attend and participate at the ICUD International Conference: Digital Discrimination and Social Networks, that took place takes on March 13 and 14, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. The ICUD Project aims to Creatively Unveil hidden forms of Discrimination on the Internet, especially on social network sites such as Facebook, and provide practical tools to combat discrimination online. This project is co-funded by the European Union’s DG Justice: Fundamental Right and Citizenship programme. It was a wonderful opportunity and space for interaction, discussion, learning and exchange of ideas and experiences: for social workers, academics, researchers, educators, Internet experts, NGOs, activists, and anyone interested in the issues surrounding discrimination on the Internet.
Complex topics like teen usage of Internet tools and social networks, racial discrimination, digital divides, network strategy against discrimination, hate speech, online gaming communities, LGBT issues, presence and representations of women online, youth and identity were discussed during the two-day conference. Here is the abstract of my talk about the digital divide as a form of hidden discrimination: Digital inequalities such as digital divides are a big issue in the information society, potentially influencing engagement in political, social, and educational life. They create marginalized, excluded groups who do not have access to the Internet, to information, or maybe to the necessary skills for using these devices (computers, mobile technology) and social applications. At some point, these people will not be able to engage fully in social, economic or political life. Opening up the access to knowledge and its deployment in everyday work and education is crucial for producing the results and fostering the competences of the members of one’s society. Access to information is the key to an individual’s position in society. We are all participating on a daily basis in a networked world and we are the creators and the producers of the content online, all together in the same hyper-connected world where the issues and patterns of inclusion and exclusion need to be observed and addressed. In this talk, digital inequalities on the internet will be explored from socio-technological and educational perspectives. There will be some interesting data and indications that beside the unequal access to the internet and computers, there is a social divide in regards of internet use, the lack of 21st century literacies, the knowledge gap, and communication and collaboration issues between two status groups: youngsters (students) and educators (professors) in higher education environment in the Balkan region. The importance of collaborative and participatory possibilities for bridging the digital divide will be discussed as they indicate a hidden form of discrimination. The possibilities of internet usage and social media in the learning environment as a tool for collaboration and participation that encourages and fosters communication processes and decreases the widening gap will be discussed. There are communication and collaboration issues detected among professors and students. Main findings has revealed the three main factors of the digital divide, and there will be offered the possible recommendations about solutions which might lesson these divides. The author will provide, beside web analysis and observations from the research, also qualitative data from semi-structured interviews with respondents from academic community on their internet usage, contributing input to determine the role and importance of the collaborative and participatory possibilities of social media and new literacies for bridging the digital gap.