The Internet has already changed many aspects of peoples’ lives in developed economies and has provided far-reaching economic and social benefits. Extending these opportunities is critical to accelerating economic and social growth in developing economies as well. Many international organizations have set ambitious plans to promote Internet access globally; they pore over reports and expend considerable money, time and talent exploring new ways to connect the unconnected (e.g., blimps, drones, satellites). But raw enthusiasm and aggregate statistics fail to capture the reality of the digital divide in the developing world. Facebook’s commitment to connecting the developing world includes a desire to understand the complexity of the issue as it relates to the cultural, structural and technological inequalities between and within countries. This approach requires bringing together insights from large number of publicly available data sources that employ different methodologies to understanding the multi-faceted nature of the digital divide, even when the assembled sources of data reach different conclusions.
In this talk, researchers from Facebook will discuss the difficulties and limitations often faced by aggregating numerous country-specific data sources together to measure the extent, cause and consequences of differences in Internet adoption between countries and populations. They will explain how Facebook evaluates the quality of existing publicly available data sources (e.g., national statistics, academic studies and industry reports), aggregates multiple sources to obtain relevant estimates and supplement data “holes” with original data collection efforts. The multi-faceted approach allows Facebook to conduct scalable and comprehensive comparative analyses at multiple levels, which in turn leads to more culturally-sensitive and context-specific approaches for bridging the digital divide.
Lauren Bachan is a quantitative researcher on the Growth Population and Survey Science team at Facebook. Her current research focuses on understanding the social and cultural barriers to Internet use in developing countries. More broadly, she’s interested in how new technologies change social life and are adapted to fit long-standing cultural norms. Lauren received her PhD in Sociology and Demography from Penn State University, where she studied extended family childcare systems in sub-Saharan Africa. Lauren also holds a BA in International Relations from Mount Holyoke College and has previously worked in the fields of international development and market research.