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Digital Inequality and Second-Order Disasters

Fri, May 22, 15:00 to 16:15, Caribe Hilton, Flamingo D

Abstract

This article investigates whether new communication technologies can mitigate the consequences of disasters and disaster recovery for affected populations. We pay particular attention to questions of social inequality and how it intersects with digital inequality. Drawing on a long-term ethnography with affected communities recovering from Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines in 2014 triggering a massive humanitarian response, we observe that digital inequality can amplify social inequalities leading to a ‘second order disaster’. This refers to humanly perpetuated disasters that can even surpass the effects of the natural disaster. The fact that some participants are recovering at a rapid pace while others are languishing behind represents a deepening of social inequalities. Those already relatively better off have access to a richer media landscape which they are able to navigate often reaping significant benefits. By contrast, the more disadvantaged participants have access to a diminished media landscape and are less likely to take advantage of any opportunities. Rather than democratising opportunities digital media exacerbate social inequalities by heightening the life chances for the better off, whilst leaving the poorer participants further behind.

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