Abstract - The Information Society 27(2)

Who’s Responsible for the Digital Divide? Public Perceptions and Policy Implications

Dmitry Epstein, Erik C. Nisbet, and Tarleton Gillespie

Addressing the reasons for, and the solutions to, the “digital divide” has been on the public agenda since the emergence of the internet. However, the term has meant quite different things, depending on the audience and the context, and these competing interpretations may in fact orient toward different policy outcomes. The goals of this paper are twofold. First, we unpack the term “digital divide” and examine how it has been deployed and interpreted across a range of academic and policy discourses. Second, through a framing experiment embedded within a nationally representative survey, we demonstrate how presenting respondents with two different conceptual frames of the digital divide may lead to different perceptions of who is most accountable for addressing the issue. From this, we discuss the dynamic relationship between the construction and communication of policy discourse and the public understanding of the digital divide, as well as implications for effective communication about the digital divide and ICT policy to the general public.

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