A closer look at this Hispanic digital divide

Hispanics are not online in the same numbers as non-Hispanics, but those who are show heightened levels of online video and social networking activity. A joint Google and Ipsos OTX MediaCT study found that Hispanic internet users—especially Spanish-dominant and bilingual Hispanics—are more involved with video and social networks than the overall population.

In the study, 64% of Hispanic internet users visited a video site in the past month, compared with 50% of the general population. And Spanish-speaking Hispanics were even further ahead: The biggest lift in online video site usage was among bilinguals and those who preferred Spanish, 66% of whom used video sites. Among English-dominant Hispanics, the proportion was 61%.

The higher usage levels of Spanish-speaking Hispanics flow down to many online video sites. With the exception of Hulu, Spanish-dominant and bilingual Hispanics were about as likely, or more so, than English-dominant Hispanics to have visited various video sites in the month before the survey.

Online Video Sites Visited by US Hispanic and Non-Hispanic Online Video Viewers, by Language Dominance, Oct 2010 (% of respondents in each group)

Similar trends were found for social networking on various sites. Myspace, in particular, was more popular with Spanish-dominant and bilingual Hispanics. For most other sites, including Facebook, they showed roughly the same or higher usage rates than English-dominant Hispanics.

Social Network Sites Visited by US Hispanic and Non-Hispanic Internet Users, by Language Dominance, Oct 2010 (% of respondents in each group)

This data is noteworthy because Hispanics, especially the Spanish-dominant and foreign-born, are less likely to use the internet than other US ethnic or racial groups.

A Washington Post survey found that 72% percent of Hispanic adults used the internet at least occasionally, 15 percentage points behind whites. This is despite the fact that Hispanics are the youngest ethnic or racial group in the US, with a median age of 27. For blacks it is 31 and for whites 41, according to the Census Bureau.

US Internet Users, by Race/Ethnicity, Feb 2011 (% of respondents in each group)

A closer look at the “digital divide” reveals a split within the Hispanic population itself, rather than between Hispanics and other ethnic groups. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 56% of the US Hispanic population ages 16 and older is foreign-born. US-born (native) and English-speaking Hispanics have internet usage rates nearly indistinguishable from whites. Rates among foreign-born and Spanish-speaking Hispanics however, drop off.

US Hispanic Internet Users, by Nativity and Language Dominance, 2009 & 2010 (% of respondents in each group)

Nativity is correlated with language-speaking ability, as well as education and income. Pew noted that when these factors were controlled for, differences in internet use, home broadband access and mobile phone use between Hispanics and other groups disappeared.

Hence, online video and social networking, especially certain sites, present unique vehicles for reaching internet-shy Hispanics. Online video either offers a greater range of Spanish-language content, or is able to overcome language barriers altogether due to the visual nature of the medium. Social networking, on the other hand, is a naturally desirable tool for anyone to communicate with friends and family, particularly when located in different countries.

SOURCE eMarketer