The internet continues to mean different things to different people, dependent on age, education, income, gender, health and social class. While 59 per cent of the global population, around 4.57 billion people, have access to the internet, this access is becoming increasingly more important for acquiring vital information and services. Because of this, a digital divide is clearly forming between those who have the capability of using the internet, and those who do not.
This is causing opportunity, service and knowledge inequalities. Those who do not have access to the internet are being excluded from certain areas of our modern-day society.
Consider how often you visit the internet in any given week. You might use it to look for that next job opportunity – the one you can only apply for online. You might use it to apply for a loan, or to apply for Government welfare. You might just use it simply to keep in contact with your closest friends and family. Now imagine you are suddenly unable to access all these vital services. You suddenly become the disconnected and the excluded.
In fact, if you do not have internet access, you are likely to earn between 3 and 10 per cent less than someone who does, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (ONS, 2020).
The internet gives public relations practitioners an open door to worldwide communication. The question is, however, can any practitioner really carry out their role if they can not access 40 per cent of the global population?
Of course, this figure varies throughout the world.
According to the ONS, less that 6 per cent of those in the UK do not have internet access. This figure is one of the lowest globally. In parts of Africa, for example, this figure reportedly rises drastically to over 80 per cent in nations such as Kenya, Ghana and Liberia.
As newer technologies are developed, the digital divide will become greater. Those who are left behind will become harder to reach as clients continue to target those who have the technology to access their services. This is no fault of their own, but it is an issue which needs to be addressed.
Public relations practitioners themselves have the potential to help solve this inequality, by bringing wealth to areas of the world which need it most. A nations image brings in tourists and business, and with that brings money to spend.
Since 2016, Mexico City, for example, has been working on a brand campaign to improve its image. The award-winning campaign has led to an 11 per cent increase in tourism and hotel occupancy reaching 70 per cent in 2017. Most importantly, visitors are spending on average 25 per cent more than they were prior to the campaign, and over 1 million jobs have been created in the hospitality industry since 2017 (PR News Wire, 2018).
With additional money to spend, there has been an additional 10 million Mexicans online since 2017, and this is expected to grow by a further 10 million by 2023 (Statista, 2020).
This is a perfect example of how additional wealth can bring less inequality.
With the technological advances and the knowledge that this brings, PR practitioners should be looking to close the digital divide; not only to benefit themselves in the longer term, but to bring the world closer together.
ONS (2020). Exploring the UK’s digital divide.
PR News Wire (2018). CDMX Branding Elevates Tourism For Mexico City.
Statista (2020). Number of internet users in Mexico from 2017 to 2023.