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Oct. 27, 2010 11:00 am

Hispanic community’s distance from the web will affect voting Nov. 2: Guest Post

This is a guest post by Liz Spikol, Editor of bilingual Tek Lado magazine, as part of our Guest Contributor Week. Want to have an op-ed or feature you’ve written to appear on TP, now or in the future? Drop us a line. One way you can tell it’s election time: Latinos are in the news. […]

Hispanic voters and their use of the web will both have an impact on Tuesday's election.

This is a guest post by Liz Spikol, Editor of bilingual Tek Lado magazine, as part of our Guest Contributor Week. Want to have an op-ed or feature you’ve written to appear on TP, now or in the future? Drop us a line.

One way you can tell it’s election time: Latinos are in the news.

President Obama is reaching out, first by highlighting Latino kids at the White House’s first science fair, and then—one day later—revealing a broad plan to encourage educational achievement among Latino children. He’s also suggested, in ways big and small, that voting on Nov. 2nd should be a priority for the Hispanic community.

He’s not wrong to push for those votes, particularly in such a hotly contested battle.

CBS News reports that in some states, the battles may be decided by Latinos —and Latinos tend to vote Democratic. The country’s fastest growing minority has a lot of power, and Obama knows it.
Right now about 19 million Latinos nationally are eligible to vote.

There are implications on both sides of the aisle for Latinos, and to understand where each party stands can be of significant value when pulling a lever behind that flimsy blue curtain.

Understanding that those 19 million voters don’t necessarily vote in lockstep, how Latinos get their information about each party — on the web or through mobile devices — can be just as crucial to that understanding.

Some information is, of course, available in print publications. But most people aren’t getting election news by dirtying their fingers with newspaper ink. They get that news—and opinion—online.

In Philadelphia, you might be inclined to go to seventy.org, the website for the Committee of Seventy, which advocates for fair elections and educating the populace. Maybe you go to phillyelection.com to see where and when you vote. Maybe you want to know who the League of Women Voters of Philadelphia are endorsing. Or you might want to know that MyFoxPhilly.com reported results of a study saying that Latino voters are less likely to go to the polls in the election, and you want to see why, and to prove them wrong.

There is no shortage of national political news sources online too, but for people who are merely interested in what their vote means, all of these sites can be edifying.

The problem is that when future voters don’t graduate either high school or college, they get alienated from critical thinking and from access to new technology.

“We must make sure that Internet access in Philadelphia fosters equality and an educated citizenry among all ethnic groups.”-Liz Spikol

Yes, Latinos do utilize technology in prolific ways. But not everyone in this city—and certainly not everyone in Latino communities—are wired. After the vain attempts by Wireless Philadelphia to link lower-income homes to the Internet, we are now faced with a city that’s wired to serve people who would probably be wired already.

There have been other initiatives, like the Gigabit Philly proposal, which fell short for now, and Obama has put pressure on the FCC to increase broadband accessibility nationally, but the agency has been grappling with net neutrality policy which is on hold until after Tuesday’s election. Comcast made splashy news by announcing it had created 2,000 wireless hotspots in Philadelphia, but, to date, they are only for their paying customers.

So for now, though without that access will continue to fall behind.

A report from the NASFAA Journal of Financial Aid reports that computer access is strongly determined by income. Ninety-six percent of households making above $75,000 own a home computer. When that income number drops to below $15,000, only 45 percent own a home computer.

We must make sure that Internet access in Philadelphia fosters equality and an educated citizenry among all ethnic groups. There is so much that is hopeful, including the fact that Latinos are making innovative use of cell phone technology, social media and blogging in higher numbers than the general population.

Laptop ownership has soared among Latinos, as has use of the Internet among English-speaking Latinos, as Pew has found. But according to Pew’s Research Center Internet and American Life Project, “foreign-born and Spanish-dominant Latinos dramatically trail not only whites but also native / English-speaking Latinos” on broadband adoption and home computer ownership.

Another newly released Pew study says, “Just one-third (32%) of all Latino registered voters say they have given this year’s election ‘quite a lot’ of thought. In contrast, half (50%) of all registered voters say the same. And when it comes to their intent to vote, half (51%) of Latino registered voters say they are absolutely certain they will vote in this year’s midterm election, while seven-in-ten (70%) of all registered voters say the same.”

Liz Spikol

Why this disparity between Latino voters and others? Could it have something to do with the digital divide?

I’m no statistician so I won’t venture a guess. But one thing we can ask Obama to do: Make sure all our neighborhoods have access to the Internet. Being a conscientious citizen is hard, sometimes boring work. But it determines the future.

Liz Spikol, former executive editor of Philadelphia Weekly, is now editor of Tek Lado magazine, a bilingual publication about technology and pop culture. See our recent Q&A with Liz here.

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