Digital inequality: laggards further marginalized

by Alexander van Deursen (via Mediawijzer)

People who can benefit the most from Internet use do so least. As a result, the laggards in our digital society are further marginalized. Alexander van Deursen, professor at the University of Twente, draws this conclusion in his report "Digitale ongelijkheid in Nederland anno 2018’. This report, commissioned by, investigated how people in different population groups use the internet and what positive and negative effects they experience.

Several phases of internet access were considered: attitude and motivation, equipment used, digital skills and the different activities people perform online. The part of the population that could potentially benefit the most from internet use is currently the worst off. The elderly, the less educated and people with a lower income have a less positive attitude and motivation, less good equipment for using the internet, a lower level of skills and perform a more limited range of activities online. In addition, they also have the least access to good quality support. Because all these phases determine the achievement of positive outcomes or protection against potential dangers, people who are already in a vulnerable position are further marginalized.


The report specifically addresses both positive and negative effects of internet use. For example, 34 percent of respondents say they have a better relationship with friends and family thanks to the internet, 19 percent say they have become fitter, 27 percent make better decisions about their own health and 30 percent of respondents say that they can form an opinion about complex themes and social problems that otherwise would not be properly understood. On the other hand, 13 percent of Dutch people say they have lost money at some point through online fraud or scams via the internet, 18 percent ever read negative comments directed at them, 12 percent found information that made them mistakenly thought they had a serious illness and 26 percent of the respondents sometimes ate or slept too little due to internet use.


The report shows that digital skills are essential to ensure that online activities have a positive impact. That is good news: targeted policy, for example in the field of media literacy, can therefore have concrete impact. Van Deursen emphasizes that when formulating policies to combat digital inequality, it is important to include all phases of internet access. 

“An integrated approach is needed that takes into account that the challenges differ per population group. As a starting point, policy initiatives could focus on a wide range of effects, taking into account not only economic benefits, but also cultural, social and personal benefits for the well-being of people, ”says Van Deursen. "Precisely those kinds of effects, such as new friendships that have arisen via the internet or a new music stream or sport that you have discovered online, turn out to be of great added value.”