Is Twitter The Great Race/Ethnic Engagement Equaliser in The US?


Although any reading will be ring fenced by a myriad of minefields regarding socio-economic and race based presumptions, it seems Twitter may be the a remarkably empowering tool for those who were formerly politically disenfranchised in the US (we did mention the minefields right?). 

Can Twitter close the political participation gap among racial and ethnic minorities in the US? Digital inequality takes on many guises, from a “new digital divide” that separates those with high speed Internet access from those with slower connection speeds to a gap in the development of the digital skills needed to access Web resources in empowering ways.

The relationship between social connection and political engagement is difficult to wrap one’s arms around. On one hand it creates challenges for democratic life by compeling us to see public life through the lens of our personal networks. But on the flip side, those who value and cultivate connection might be more disposed to benefit from social media. A recent Pew survey found that Blacks and Latinos in the United States were significantly more likely than whites to be “early adopters” of Twitter.

Without looking deeper into the data, I can’t produce a good answer as to why this is the case, but one suspicion I have is that Blacks and Latinos in the US are more prone to communitarian values than non Hispanic-whites in the US who might be more individualistic in their world view (broad generalization, I know). If this is the case, Blacks and Latinos might be more drawn to the ability to forge and sustain community via Twitter. Twitter allows for the development of connections based on communities of interest. As such, they are more oriented to the formation of new, much thinner, bonds than is Facebook, which is mostly based on pre-existing networks.

A research question I am currently purusing with Jessica Lavariega Monforti at the University of Texas-Pan American asks whether acquiring digital skills leads to increased feelings of trust and efficacy among Blacks and Latinos in the US as compared to Non-Hispanic Whites in the US. If the proposition that Blacks and Latinos are more prone to a communitarian world view and hence forming thin-tie social networks via Twitter, then the social network could be a source for closing the civic and social divide in America. Too early to tell of course, but an interesting research journey to embark upon.