Just How Accurate is That Web Survey - The Digital Reader“Why can’t the media understand the digital divide—especially the Associated Press?” I asked earlier this month on the TeleRead and LibraryCity sites. AP just didn’t get it. The divide isn’t merely about gadget counts. It’s about a mix of computers, connectivity, other access issues, content, social interaction and guidance of that libraries and schools can provide.

Now, via stats from a Pew survey, Nate over at The Digital Reader has in effect documented more evidence of media cluelessness on divide matters. He’s shown how online opinion surveys can be unreliable. They don’t precisely reflect the opinions of everyone, not just the well-off, the well-wired or the young. Pew and Nate looked at the methodology of the polls rather than the media’s use of them; but those areas overlap. Granted, at this point, just one in ten America is offline, but the related inaccuracies can count on issues where there’s close to a 50-50 split. Excerpt from Nate:

According to Pew, around 18% of the survey responses were completed on paper. After collating the results of 406 questions asked in surveys spread over 15 months, Pew found that those who fill out the paper survey by mail tended to be older, single, less well educated, and earned less than those that answered the survey online.

Virtually all (90%) of the offline respondents were over the age of 50. Half had a HS diploma or less (compared to 18% of the overall group), and 42% earned less than $20,000 a year (vs 14% of the overall group). The offline respondents were also twice as likely to live alone (44% vs 20% overall). And finally, those who fill out the paper survey by mail were also twice as likely to be black (16%, vs 7% overall).

Pew’s study found that the offline respondents were less likely to use the internet regularly or even have a computer, tablet, or smartphone…

For better or worse—the latter in this case—politicians heavily rely on the media in making policy decisions. So what does it mean when they read news stories based on faulty opinion polls? Well, for one thing, the opinions of low-income and elderly people count less than they should. Never mind the old dictum that newspapers should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. These days the press so often seems to have reversed those priorities, and trust in online opinion polls could aggravate the problem.

Among the victims of these screwed-up priorities can be library funding. Some further words from Nate would be apropos. “To put it simply, Pew has demonstrated the existence of the digital divide, the social and economic problem resulting from poorer and less well-educated members of our society lacking the same access to computers and the web as you or I.

“This, folks, is why many argue that we need well-funded libraries and tech in schools. The modern library has long been viewed as a way for the common man to improve himself, and in the 21st century that means giving the populace access to tech and other resources that not all can afford on their own.”


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